WASHINGTON — Gay troops can serve openly in the armed forces without harming the military’s ability to fight, the Pentagon’s top leaders declared Tuesday, calling for the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban to be scrapped and pointing to a new survey to show most troops won’t mind.
President Barack Obama, citing the troop poll, urged the Senate to repeal the ban before adjourning in the next few weeks, but there is still no indication GOP objections can be overcome with just a few weeks left in the postelection lame-duck session.
Still, the survey did put new pressure on Republican opponents, led by Sen. John McCain, who say efforts to repeal the law are politically motivated and dangerous at a time of two wars.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the ban on openly gay military service “requires people to lie,” and he called for quick Senate action.
“We spend a lot of time in the military talking about integrity and honor and values. Telling the truth is a pretty important value in that scale,” Gates said as he released the Pentagon study showing that most people currently in uniform don’t care about the ban.
Senate Democrats plan to force a vote in December. Senate Republicans were generally silent following release of the Pentagon recommendations for repealing the ban.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., embraced the report, saying the idea of allowing gays to serve openly in the military “makes common sense.”
“It’s no surprise to me, it’s no surprise to the American people,” Reid said. “It’s been shown time and time again that having gays in the military does not hurt the military, it improves the military.”
Among the advantages, Reid said, “It adds to the recruitment possibilities.”
Sen John Ensign, R-Nev. remains uncommitted pending hearings that the Senate Armed Services will hold later this week, his spokeswoman Jennifer Cooper said.
“Senator Ensign is reviewing the Pentagon’s report this week with his staff and plans on closely watching the hearings on Thursday and Friday before making any decisions on this issue,” Cooper said.
Although historic, Tuesday’s recommendation that the military for the first time allow openly gay people came with a caveat that also frustrates many supporters of repeal. Gates wants an indefinite grace period while the Pentagon prepares for the policy change and phases it in.
Critics led by McCain say the Pentagon’s report doesn’t address risks to morale and fighting mettle. Gates countered: “I obviously have a lot of admiration and respect for Senator McCain, but in this respect I think that he’s mistaken.”
Obama has called it a top priority to repeal the 1993 law that bans openly gay service. But gay rights groups have complained that he and Reid have done too little to see it through, focusing their postelection efforts instead on tax cuts and a nuclear arms treaty with Russia before Republicans gain congressional strength when lawmakers return in January.
With the Pentagon report now issued, the Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The House voted in May to repeal the law, 234-194. Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., voted for repeal. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted against repeal.
Reid has promised a vote on the matter by the end of the year, after hearings can be held this week. But if he fails, the bill’s chances of survival are dim as the new Congress takes over in January.
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report.