Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’?

By on November 22, 2010

Should “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed? Two experts debate.

Lawrence J. Korb, Ph.D.
Center for American Progress

Lawrence J. Korb, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He served as assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration.

 

Elaine Donnelly
Center for Military Readiness

Elaine Donnelly is President of the Center for Military Readiness. She is a former member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (1984–86), and of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.

Part 1: Lawrence J. Korb, Ph.D.: Why Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

Editor's note: This article was adapted from the report "Ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'" by Lawrence J. Korb, Ph.D.; Sean Duggan; and Laura Conley, published by the Center for American Progress. It is used with permission.

Then-Senator Barack Obama pledged during the 2008 presidential campaign that he would work with military leaders and Congress to repeal the law that bans openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the military. Yet the law commonly known as "Don't Ask Don't Tell," or DADT, remains in effect despite his campaign promise and subsequent pledges to fulfill it. As a consequence, more than 265 service members have been discharged on the basis of this discriminatory outmoded and counterproductive policy since Obama took office. Furthermore, the policy has deterred untold others who want to defend their country from serving. Gary Gates, a senior research fellow at the UCLA School of Law, found that if the proportion of gay men in the military was allowed to rise to equal that in the general population, "the military could raise their numbers by an estimated 41,000 men."

DADT has resulted in the discharge of more than 13,000 patriotic and highly qualified men and women since its enactment more than 16 years ago. At least 1,000 of these 13,000 have held "critical occupations" such as interpreters and engineers.[1] Moreover, approximately 4,000 service members leave the service voluntarily per year because of this policy.

There is also no credible evidence supporting the underlying arguments for retaining the law, namely, that it would undermine unit cohesion and military effectiveness. Even architects of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" have acknowledged that the policy was "'based on nothing' but 'our own prejudices and our own fears.'"

Perhaps most important this outmoded policy sends the wrong signal to the young people–straight or gay–that the military is trying to recruit. It tells them that the military is an intolerant place that does not value what they value, namely, diversity, fairness, and equality. What's more, military recruiters face generalized hostility and opposition everywhere from high schools to colleges and law schools over the issue of discrimination against gays.

The Case for Repealing DADT

The Financial Cost. First and foremost, evidence shows that sexual orientation is not germane to military service. According to Dr. Nathaniel Frank of the Palm Center, "There is actually a vast body of data on homosexuality in the military–existing data show clearly that open gays can and do serve in the military without undermining cohesion and that the gay ban itself causes more problems in the military than the presence of open gays in a unit."[2] Yet, according to Frank, “such evidence has played only a sporadic role, because the evidence has been consistently and tragically ignored every time the [U.S] government has confronted the issue of homosexuality and the military.”[3] As a record of government and independent studies dating back to the 1950s demonstrates, the Pentagon has a history of suppressing studies that undercut the rationale for discriminating against gays.

Second, the direct financial cost of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" on the American taxpayer is substantial. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report found that recruiting replacements for enlisted service members fired because of their sexual orientation from 1993 up until the end of fiscal year 2003 totaled at least $95 million in 2004 dollars. Nearly 10,000 service members were forced to separate from the military during this time, which amounts to nearly $10,000 per discharged service member.[4]

More than 13,000 service members have now been discharged since 1993, which means that the total cost of DADT in 2004 dollars, according to the GAO estimates, would be more than $124 million. This would amount to more than $140 million in current dollars. Yet analysis of GAO's methodology shows that the $95 million figure may be a substantial underestimate. A study by a group of defense experts including former Secretary of Defense William Perry[5] released shortly after the 2005 GAO report found that GAO's analysis left out several important factors such as the high cost of training officers–commissioned soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and women, and members of the Coast Guard with several years of service experience–who were discharged due to their sexual orientation. Factoring in these costs makes the cost to the American taxpayer in 2004 dollars jump to at least $363.8 million, or approximately $37,000 per discharged service member. This total is $269 million, or over 380 percent more than originally reported by GAO. When this more realistic accounting formulation is applied to the current total of 13,000 discharged service members, the cost amounts to more than $473 million in 2004 dollars, or $535 million in current dollars.

The GAO moreover found in 1992 that "on the basis of its policy of excluding homosexuals from the military, DOD annually expelled an average of about 1,500 men and women between 1980 and 1990 under the separation category of 'homosexuality.'" At the rate of 1,500 per year, the number of discharges from 1980 through 1992 would be 19,500. These discharges would amount to an additional $800 million in current dollars.

Accordingly, "Don't Ask Don't Tell" may have cost the U.S. taxpayer up to $1.3 billion since 1980.

Lack of Support for DADT. Putting aside the financial costs of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the policy is no longer supported within the military, nor is it supported by the majority of Americans. When President Clinton tried to repeal DADT in 1993, only 44 percent of the American people supported changing the policy, and 76 percent of servicemen and 55 percent of service women disapproved of lifting the gay ban.[6] But service members’ opinions have come full circle in the last decade and a half. A December 2006 Zogby International Poll found that 73 percent of military personnel say they are comfortable interacting with gay people. More importantly, when asked the question “Do you agree or disagree with allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military?” roughly 58 percent of respondents either agreed or were neutral.[7]

The American public is also now in favor of repealing DADT. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans are in favor of openly gay men and women being able to serve in the military. A recent ABC/Washington Post opinion poll found an even more dramatic increase in civilian acceptance of gays serving in the military since the early Clinton and George W. Bush years: 75 percent of Americans in the poll said "gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military" up from 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993.

Military Readiness. A third point to consider is that allowing openly gay men and women to serve improves military readiness. While the military was discharging highly qualified and well-trained service men and women and thousands of others were leaving voluntarily, it was forced to lower its educational aptitude and moral standards to meet its recruiting goals. It was moreover forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars retaining people in order to keep force levels high rather than buying vital equipment for the wars we are currently fighting.

The army and Marine Corps in particular have significantly lowered their recruitment standards. The Department of Defense reported in 2007 that over the prior four years it had dramatically increased its distribution of "moral waivers," which allow recruits charged or convicted of crimes (including serious felonies) to enter the military. The army reported distributing 4,918 such waivers in 2003; 4,529 waivers in 2004; 5,506 waivers in 2005; and 8,129 waivers in 2006. The Marine Corps reported distributing 19,195 waivers in 2003; 18,669 waivers in 2004; 20,426 waivers in 2005; and 20,750 waivers in 2006. These moral waivers include alarming numbers of applicants charged with felonies.

The system for coding waivers was entirely overhauled for all four departments of the armed forces in 2008[8], and the Department of Defense has since disavowed the statistics collected and released in 2007. But the army, since reforming its coding system, has still more than doubled the number of felony waivers from 249 in 2006 to 511 in 2007, while the Marine Corps reported an almost 70 percent increase in felony waivers during that time period from 208 to 350. It is also important to note that the Department of Defense does not release the number of waivers distributed to applicants; only the waivers distributed to applicants who later enlisted are counted in the final tally.[9]

The army has likewise been lowering its standards for recruits' educational backgrounds to increase recruitment numbers, a dangerous proposition at a time of war. "Tier 1" army recruits–those who have received a high school diploma–have dropped to 71 percent of enlisted soldiers in 2007 from 94 percent in 2003, falling far short of its goal of maintaining 90 percent Tier 1 rates. Fortunately, prior-education rates of Air Force, Navy, and Marine recruits have remained consistently flat.

The Moral Dimension. Perhaps most important, the federal government should repeal the policy because it is discriminatory and intolerant and thus inconsistent with American values. Anachronistic practices eventually give way to social progress as American society comes to appreciate how antithetical those practices are to its values. This was the case with the ban on African Americans and women serving in the military.

It is also important to note that by allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military, the services–as noted earlier–will be following rather than leading the society from which they draw troops and support. This was not the case when Truman ordered the military to desegregate in the late 1940s or when President Clinton first attempted to drop the ban on gays in the early 1990s.

We expect military members to defend not only our country but the Constitution and the individual liberties guaranteed under the Constitution, and we should not send those service members an official "mixed message" that some of the liberties they are prepared to die for are ones they shouldn't accept within their own ranks.

Reasons Opponents Give for Not Repealing DADT

Damage to Unit Cohesion. Opponents of repealing the ban on allowing openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the military most frequently cite the specious claim that it would damage unit cohesion. The problem with this argument, according to Nathaniel Frank, is that there is no good evidence to support this claim and considerable evidence against it.

In fact, a review of nearly 200 publications in the past 50 years conducted by Robert J. MacCoun, a contributor to the 1993 RAND study on gay service, found in 1996 that "it is task cohesion, not social cohesion or group pride, that drives group performance."[10]

"Task cohesion" refers to group solidarity that results from the collective efforts of individuals dedicated to achieving a common goal; "social cohesion" refers to bonds of friendship and affinity among group members. In emphasizing task over group cohesion, the studies to which MacCoun referred strongly suggested that as long as all of the personnel in combat are committed to their mission, they will perform it equally effectively regardless of whether they can relate to one another personally. Even those units that pair openly homosexual soldiers with soldiers who are uncomfortable with serving alongside homosexuals should therefore find themselves no less capable of performing their given missions. "This conclusion," MacCoun says, "is consistent with the results of hundreds of studies in the industrial-organizational psychological literature."[11]

Skeptics claim that task cohesion would not suffice to produce satisfactory results, and it must be combined with group cohesion. But similar studies cited by MacCoun that analyze both military and nonmilitary group efforts prove that these assertions are unfounded as well.[12] Regarding cohesion in the military, two facts deserve particular attention. First, military training and battlefield experience in themselves reinforce task cohesion. As Judith Stiehm pointed out in a 1992 article, “trust and confidence develop not from homogeneity but shared experience–the military assumes the job of training [recruits] to behave as a team.” Brian Mullen and Carolyn Copper of Syracuse University conducted “the most complete meta-analysis to date” on the relationship between cohesion and performance and similarly found that, after controlling for task cohesion, “social cohesion had no connection to performance.”[13]

Foreign Services. Opponents of repealing the ban on allowing openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the military often claim that militaries similar to the United States' do not allow openly gay men and lesbians to serve. Indeed, when President Clinton tried to repeal the ban on openly gay service members in 1993, his detractors claimed that no military equivalent to that of the United States—namely, the British armed forces–had implemented such a change. Given the fact that the British military is perhaps the closest in design and operation to the U.S. Military, this argument carried considerable weight with those wishing to maintain the ban in the 1990s. The British, like the United States, deploy their forces frequently, and their troops serve in close quarters on submarines and ships–situations where Clinton's opponents believed open homosexuality would be particularly disruptive to order and unit cohesion.

Yet the British position has changed since 1993. Britain began studying the policy intensely in the mid-1990s, and although the Ministry of Defense's Homosexual Policy Assessment Team determined that Britain should continue to ban gay service members, the British reversed their policy after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the ban violated the right to privacy promised in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court's decision, which was legally binding, forced the British government in January 2000 to allow gay troops to serve openly.[14] Not surprisingly, the British have not experienced any cohesion problems over the past decade.

Recruitment and Retention. Critics note that some U.S. service members have indicated that they would leave or might leave if openly gay men and women were permitted to serve. Recent public opinion polls reflecting the favorable opinion of service men and women to serving with openly gay men and lesbians aside, this is a serious argument that must be confronted head-on.

The British experience subsequent to the ban's repeal suggests that the United States has little reason to be concerned. Pre-repeal surveys in Britain indicated that there would be a backlash from current troops–the Palm Center reports that "in both Canada and Britain, two-thirds of male troops said that they would not work with gay men if gay bans were lifted"–yet only a handful of service members resigned.[15] Moreover, the Ministry of Defense’s internal study six months after the policy change concluded that, contrary to expectations, “there has been a marked lack of reaction” to allowing gay troops to serve.[16]

Lifting the ban on gays serving in the British military ultimately proved more difficult in theory than in practice. According to Frank, once the change had been made, the British found that "sexuality was now regarded as a private matter" among service members.[17]

Not the Right Time. Still others argue that now is not the time to end this form of discrimination in the military, with more than 200,000 troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and the Pentagon undertaking serious budget and operational overhauls. Yet this line of reasoning also falls flat. Perhaps now more than ever–with the United States engaged in two wars and attempting to change the direction of the defense budget–it is critical that the U.S. military stop discharging service members with valuable overseas experience or those whom the military has spent hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to train. The fact that DADT has resulted in the discharge of more than 1,000 service members with skills deemed "critical occupations" demonstrates further the irrationality of waiting to overturn DADT.

A Dangerous Policy

Repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is not simply a "gay rights" issue. It's a matter of military readiness. The United States is doggedly adhering to a policy that is purging its armed forces of much-needed talent and manpower and sending the wrong signal to many potential recruits on grounds that are discriminatory and baseless. This makes the policy both unjustifiable and highly dangerous.

The United States is involved in two wars abroad and an economic crisis at home; now is the time for President Obama to fulfill his campaign pledge and begin the process of repealing this unnecessary and counterproductive law.


[1] Government Accountability Office "Financial Costs and Loss of Critical Skills Due to DoD's Homosexual Conduct Policy Cannot be Completely Estimated" February 2005. Note: GAO's 2005 report reflected separations as of the end of FY 2003 when 757 service members had been forced to leave the military due to DoD's homosexual conduct policy. The 1000 figure above reflects an estimation of the current number of service members separated from the military given a constant pace of separations.

[2] Nathaniel Frank Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America (New York: St. Martin's Press 2009) p. 113.

[3] Ibid. p. 114.

[4] Government Accountability Office "Financial Costs and Loss of Critical Skills."

[5] Full disclosure: Lawrence Korb was a member of this group.

[6] Frank Unfriendly Fire p. 126.

[7] Zogby International "Opinions of Military Personnel on Sexual Minorities in the Military" p. 14.

[8] Sergeant Dennis Drogo Assistant Director Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness/MPP. Telephone interview conducted on June 192009

[9] Interview with Personnel and Readiness Office Department of Defense. Telephone interview conducted on June 192009

[10] Frank Unfriendly Fire p. 131.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Frank Unfriendly Fire pp. 144'“45.

[15] Belkin and others "How to End '˜Don't Ask Don't Tell" Palm Center" p.9.

[16] Frank Unfriendly Fire p. 146.

[17] Ibid p. 149.

Part 2: Elaine Donnelly: No Excuse for Imposing LGBT Law on the Military

In their article advocating repeal of the 1993 law regarding homosexuals in the military, which is constantly mislabeled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), Lawrence Korb, Sean Duggan, and Laura Conley focus on small issues while missing the main point. Social policies should not be imposed on our military if they do not improve qualities such as recruiting, retention, morale, and readiness.

Korb and like-minded liberals have failed to make a case for a new law imposing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) agenda on our military. Legislation they are promoting has stalled due to congressional concerns about predictable harmful consequences and extremely high costs of pretending that sexuality does not matter.

Section 654, Title 10: The 1993 Eligibility Law

First, a review of legislative history. Members of Congress seriously considered a concept known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which President Clinton formally proposed in July 1993. The proposal suggested that gays could serve in the military as long as they didn't say they were homosexual.

Following twelve legislative hearings and field trips, members recognized an inherent inconsistency that would render the proposed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy unworkable and indefensible in court: If homosexuality is not a disqualifying characteristic, how could the armed forces justify dismissal of a person who merely reveals the presence of such a characteristic?

Instead of approving such a legally questionable concept, Congress chose to codify, almost verbatim, long-standing Department of Defense (DoD) regulations declaring that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.[1] The resulting statute (Section 654, Title 10, U.S.C.) clearly states that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the military.[2]

The law does not include the vague, indefinable phrase "sexual orientation," which is key to DADT. Instead, it forbids homosexual conduct as evidenced by activities or statements. (Absent unusual circumstances, a person who says he is homosexual is presumed to engage in homosexual conduct.)

The law passed with bipartisan, veto-proof majorities in both houses.[3] Federal courts have upheld the law as constitutional several times, and it enjoys strong support among active-duty personnel.

But the Clinton administration imposed the DADT concept on the military anyway in administrative regulations that are inconsistent with the law. The resulting DADT "policy" is problematic because it encourages recruitment of persons who are not eligible for military service under Section 654, Title 10.

Describing this policy as a "compromise" and referring to it as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" gave political cover to President Clinton, who failed to deliver on his 1992 campaign promise. The only "compromise" involved allowed the Clinton administration to continue its interim policy of not asking "the question" regarding homosexuality that used to appear on routine induction forms. The secretary of defense, however, may reinstate that inquiry at any time.

This politically expedient concession on a matter of process was ill-advised, but it did not nullify the language and substance of Section 654, Title 10. The statute's purpose is to encourage good order and discipline, not the situational dishonesty inherent in "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

As former Marine Commandant General Carl E. Mundy, Jr., pointed out in a January op-ed, fifteen unambiguous "findings" in the law are understandable, enforceable, and consistent with the unique requirements of the military. The statute also avoids the First Amendment conundrums that were obvious in President Clinton's original DADT proposal.

Among other things, the law states that "military life is fundamentally different from civilian life" and that standards of conduct apply "whether the member is on base or off base, and whether the member is on duty or off duty." It further notes that members of the armed forces must "involuntarily accept living conditions and working conditions that are characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy." Therefore, "the prohibition against homosexual conduct is a long-standing element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique conditions of military service."

These still-valid findings and statements are very different from the language proposed by Bill Clinton on July 19, 1993: "Sexual orientation is considered a personal and private matter, and homosexual orientation is not a bar to service entry or continued service unless manifested by homosexual conduct."

In the 1996 Thomasson v. Perry case, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the law but also recognized that the Clinton administration's DADT policy was not consistent with it.[4] Differences between the law and Clinton’s contradictory policy explain why opposing factions are critical of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”[5]

Small Number of Discharges: Not a Threat to National Security

Korb, Duggan, and Conley keep focusing on relatively small numbers of discharges due to homosexuality, but these figures do not make the case for repeal of the 1993 law. The DoD first put the issue into perspective in 2005, when the Pentagon provided figures on discharges for homosexuality, compared to losses in general, for fiscal years 1994-2003. The average percentage of discharges due to homosexuality during those 10 years, as calculated by DoD, was 0.37.[6]

Figures provided by the DoD in 2009, documenting military discharges for five more fiscal years (2004-2008), reflect patterns evident in the previous decade. Discharges due to homosexuality affect a minuscule number of troops and represent less than 1 percent of personnel losses that occur for other legitimate reasons.

A CMR Policy Analysis shows that proportionate losses for the six reasons noted, including homosexuality, have not changed significantly. The military has discharged more than four times as many personnel for weight standard violations and three times as many for pregnancy.[7]

An August 2009 report produced by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) confirmed that the relatively few discharges for homosexuality do not threaten military readiness. Numbers provided to the Congressional Research Service by the DoD indicate that losses due to homosexuality, averaged over five years, accounted for only 0.32 percent of all discharges–only 0.73 percent if departures due to retirement or completion of service are excluded.

Among other things, CRS quoted an April 1998 DoD report that confirmed that most losses due to homosexuality occur among "junior personnel with very little time in the military [and] the number of cases involving career service members is relatively small.” Furthermore, “the great majority of discharges for homosexual conduct are uncontested and processed administratively. [In FY 1997] more than 98% received honorable discharges."

If Secretary of Defense Robert Gates desires a more "humane" way to enforce Section 654, Title 10, he should order compliance with statutory language mandating that all personnel receive briefings on the meaning of the actual law and use his legally authorized power to drop the administrative policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Homosexuals can serve our country in many ways, but they are not eligible to serve in the military.

More importantly, Secretary Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and members of Congress should seriously consider and actively oppose the extreme, open-ended consequences of the proposed legislation that would impose a new LGBT law or policy on the military with "delayed implementation." If Congress repeals the law by passing the defense authorization bill, three officials who are already on record favoring repeal of the law (President Obama, Gates, and Mullen) are supposed to "certify" that the new non-discrimination policy for lesbians, gays, and transgendered personnel would not harm the military. The open-ended legislation, sponsored by Representative Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), was substituted for the original bill, H.R. 1283, that would forbid distinctions based on "homosexuality or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived."

The Proposed LGBT Law for the Military

Members of Congress should seriously consider and actively oppose the extreme, open-ended consequences of H.R. 1283, legislation sponsored by Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), which would forbid distinctions based on "homosexuality or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived."

If passed, this new LGBT law or policy would apply to all branches and communities of the military–including army and Marine infantry battalions, special operations forces, Navy SEALS and submarines–on a constant 24/7 basis.

How would this work? Many advocates cavalierly demand the accommodation of at least four different gender and "sexual orientation" groups, regardless of predictable tensions and problems in the close quarters of infantry battalions and submarines. Activist Jacob Reitan, for example, flatly rejects the "ridiculous" suggestion that gays and straights should live or shower separately.

Mandatory policies implementing the new LGBT law or policy–tantamount to ordering military women to share private quarters with men–would attempt to overcome the normal human desire for modesty and privacy in sexual matters. Such a quest would be inappropriate for the military and unlikely to succeed.

Various types of sexual misconduct occur in the military because men and women are human and, therefore, imperfect. Homosexuals are no more perfect than anyone else. If repeal of the law forces the military to disregard basic human psychology, risks of demoralizing misconduct will escalate to include male/male and female/female issues in addition to those that already occur. The stress, distractions, and drain on time and resources would be considerable, especially in units that are training or deployed in a war.

A corollary policy would enforce "zero tolerance" of anyone who disagrees, for any reason. Penalties for dissent would include denial of promotions, ending thousands of military careers. The first people affected would be chaplains and members of major religions that do not favor the LGBT agenda.

Many first-term enlistees normally leave, but the voluntary or involuntary loss of even a few thousand careerists in communities, grades, and skills that are not quickly or easily replaceable would put everyone else at greater risk. This is especially so during a time of war, but there is no acceptable time to force out of the military good people–the leaders of tomorrow–just because they do not support the LGBT agenda.

That result was presaged in a May 2009 report from the Palm Center, which provided insight into social difficulties that the pro-repeal activist group expects the military to overcome with conscious coercion. In a three-page section, the report recommended a system of carrots and sticks, using variations of the words implementation, enforcement, and compliance (often in tandem with the word problems) no fewer than 35 times.

Advocates for repeal of Section 654, Title 10, constantly wrap their cause in the honored banner of "civil rights." This argument, however, is among the weakest. As the law states, there is no constitutional right to serve in the military. Sometimes there is an obligation, as in times of war when conscription is imposed. But there is no "right" to serve in uniform; the military is not just another equal opportunity employer.

President Harry Truman's executive order to end racial discrimination in 1948 advanced civil rights, but its primary purpose was military necessity.[8] The military's "can do" efforts to implement zero tolerance for racial prejudice have succeeded faster than in the civilian world because there was and is no rational justification for racial discrimination. In contrast, the separation of men and women in circumstances affecting sexual privacy is rational, reasonable, and usually appropriate in the civilian world as well as in the military.

Korb and his colleagues have held up as role models twenty-five dissimilar militaries of foreign nations, but the argument is not convincing. Our military is the role model for our allies, not the other way around.

With all due respect to the referenced 25 of 200 countries worldwide, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, (excepting the elite Foreign Legion), Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Uruguay do not have the institutional culture, let alone the worldwide responsibilities, that our military has. Nor have the militaries of Britain, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, and Israel adopted the extreme, unworkable agenda that LGBT activists are trying to impose on our military.

Furthermore, potential adversaries such as North Korea, China, and Iran are not hampering their forces by embracing the gay agenda. No one has shown how the new LGBT law would improve military recruiting, retention, and readiness–factors that are essential for an effective all-volunteer force.

Good Advice from Experienced Advisors

Liberal civilian advocates of gays in the military believe they know more than 1,160 retired flag and general officers from all branches of service who have personally signed a statement addressed to the president and members of Congress urging continuing support for Section 654, Title 10.[9] These leaders, including officers in command and other significant positions in wars as recent as Iraq and Afghanistan, have spent much of their careers assessing and ensuring military readiness and effectiveness.

President Obama and members of Congress should not disregard their advice. In the formulation of personnel policies, if there is a conflict between equal opportunity and military necessity, the needs of the military must come first.


[1] Legislative history clearly shows that members of Congress did not intend to accommodate professed homosexuals in the military. See 103rd Congress, House Report 103-200, NDAA for FY 1994, 287. Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), then-chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Personnel Subcommittee, underscored the point in a 16 December 1999 Memorandum for Members of the Republican Conference, "Policy Regarding the Present Ban on Homosexuals in the Military": "Although some would assert that section 654 of Title 10, US Code … embodied the compromise now referred to as ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' there is no evidence to suggest that the Congress believed the new law to be anything other than a continuation of a firm prohibition against military service for homosexuals that had been the historical policy." See Elaine Donnelly, "Constructing the Co-Ed Military," Journal of Gender Law & Policy (Duke University) 14 (May 2007), 905–08. This and other historical documents related to this issue are available here.

[2] National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 1994, Pub. L. no. 103–60, § 571, 107 Stat. 1547,1670,-1993, codified at 10 U.S.C. § 654. The 1993 law codified long-standing DoD regulations adopted in January 1981. See Donnelly, "Constructing the Co-Ed Military," 906–10.

[3] The FY 1994 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) codified language almost identical to that in DoD directives promulgated in 1981. An amendment offered by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.), which would have allowed the president to decide policy regarding gays in the military, was defeated on September 9,1993, on a bipartisan 63–33 vote. On September 28, the House rejected a similar amendment, sponsored by Representatives Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) and Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.). The Meehan/Schroeder amendment was defeated on a bipartisan roll-call vote, 264–169.

[4] Donnelly, "Constructing the Co-Ed Military," 908–11.

[5] See DOD News Release No. 605-93, December 22, 1993. The release announcing enforcement regulations primarily referred to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy announced by President Clinton on July 19,1993, not the language and meaning of Section 654, Title 10. The unnoticed discrepancy has been the source of confusion and controversy ever since.

[6] Letter from Dr. David Chu, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, February 7,2005, published in the GAO Report "Military Personnel Financial Cost and Loss of Critical Skills Due to DoD's Homosexual Conduct Policy Cannot be Completely Estimated," GAO-05-299, February 2005, pp. 42–43.

[7] Obtained from the DoD by HASC Personnel Subcommittee Member John Kline (R-Minn.). The referenced CMR policy analysis, which includes graphs and tables illustrating DoD figures, is available here.

[8] Report of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, November 1992, Findings 1.32,1.33, and 1.33A, p. C-40.

[9] See www.flagandgeneralofficersforthemilitary.com. Actual signatures, gathered by regular mail, are on file with the Center for Military Readiness, which provided administrative support for the project.

Part 3: Lawrence J. Korb, Ph.D.: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Support for Repeal from Conservatives

In her response to our article on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), Elaine Donnelly is right about one thing: Social policies should not be imposed on the military if they undermine readiness. But she ignores the fact that every study done by or for the Pentagon going back to the 1957 Crittenden report, which was done for the secretary of the navy, shows that allowing openly gay people to serve does not undermine military readiness. In fact, those studies prove the opposite. However, Donnelly is dead wrong about a whole host of other issues.

If These Guys Are Liberals…

Donnelly accuses us and "like-minded liberals" of failing to make the case for repealing DADT, a decision that she claims would "impos[e] the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) agenda on our military." I guess she never read "Mr. Conservative" Senator Barry Goldwater's 1993 statement that "you don't need to be 'straight' to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight."

I guess she also missed the recent op-ed in The Washington Post by David Rivkin, Jr., and Lee Casey, two conservative lawyers who worked in the Justice Department under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Reagan. They argued forcefully (and correctly) that, in light of Admiral Michael Mullen's February testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the benefits to this military and the country of allowing openly gay people to serve, the 1993 congressional law that bans them from serving openly is unconstitutional because there is no rational basis for excluding openly gay people from the military.

Speaking of Admiral Mullen, currently the nation's highest ranking officer, Donnelly also seems to have missed his February testimony that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. Nor does she point out that two of Mullen's predecessors as chairman, Generals John Shalikashvili and Colin Powell, have changed their minds since originally supporting DADT. That makes three of the last six chairmen supporting us "like-minded liberals."

Nor is there any mention of the like-minded liberal Dick Cheney, who also supports repealing DADT and who, as secretary of defense during the Persian Gulf War, suspended enforcement of the ban on gays for the duration of the war. There were no problems or angry departures as a result of Cheney's actions. And oh, by the way, we won that war, and since 2001–when we have been at war again–the number of people discharged each year under DADT has been cut in half.

Holes in Donnelly's Arguments

Donnelly relies on a group of retired generals and admirals, the vast majority of whom have not served in this century and none of whom attained the military's highest rank, that is, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some of the officers she relies on to support her cause are deceased, and one signature was provided by the widow of a deceased service member who had lost the ability to communicate six years before his death.

Donnelly also downplays the impact of forcing people to leave the service since the passage of the 1993 law. She contends that the 14,000 who have been forced out represent less than 1 percent of personnel losses that occur for other "legitimate" reasons. But she conveniently ignores the fact that, as the Williams Institute at UCLA has documented, another 4,000 qualified and experienced gay men and women who have not been outed choose not to reenlist each year. Or the fact that tens of thousands of otherwise qualified men and women will not enlist in the first place because of this discriminatory policy. Finally, what about the more than 60,000 gays currently in the service who would not be there if the secretary of defense were to follow Donnelly's advice and ask people about their sexual orientation before they enlist?

These figures add up to more than 100,000 qualified men and women who will not join, leave because of fear of being caught, or get kicked out because of DADT. To replace them, the army and Marines had to give more than 80,000 moral waivers between 2003 and 2007 to fight George W. Bush's mindless, needless, senseless war in Iraq. These waivers allowed some convicted criminals–including some who committed felonies–to serve in the U.S. armed forces. And yet Donnelly insists that disallowing gays enhances military readiness.

Not a Drastic Change

We could go on and on, but the issue of allowing gays to serve openly in the military was never a liberal or conservative issue. It is an issue of military readiness and American values. Not surprisingly then, three-quarters of the American people–including 64 percent of Republicans–now support dropping the ban. Nor is it being forced on the military. In addition to Mullen, 73 percent of recently returned veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan said they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians.

Donnelly also dismisses the argument that we should learn from the experiences of our closest allies who allow openly gay members to serve without undermining cohesion or readiness. According to her, our military is the role model for our allies, not the other way around. Really? When General David Petraeus was put in charge of the military effort in Iraq in 2007, he recruited as his counterinsurgency advisor David Kilcullen, an Australian specialist in guerilla war, and placed General Graeme Lamb, a British general, in charge of the reconciliation effort in Iraq because of his experience in Northern Ireland.

Donnelly even argues that the militaries of Britain, Canada, and Israel, which have dropped the ban on gays, have not "adopted the extreme, unworkable agenda that LGBT activists are trying to impose on our military." Not so. The activists are saying the opposite. As we point out in our recent study, "Implementing the Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the U.S. Armed Forces," the experiences of the British, Canadian, and Israeli militaries show that once the law is repealed, there are only a number of fairly limited and manageable administrative, bureaucratic, and legal changes that must be made. Moreover, because these countries are not burdened with the Defense of Marriage Act, they can and do provide the same benefits to same-sex couples that married couples receive and do not provide separate facilities for gay troops.

The Beginning of the End

As a result of the testimony of Admiral Mullen, which was supported by another like-minded liberal, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who was appointed to high posts by the last three Republican presidents), the debate has shifted. It is now no longer a question of whether to repeal DADT but how and when. Gates has not only failed to comply with Donnelly's interpretation of the 1993 law–which would have required him not to allow gays into the military even if they do not tell–but has gone in the opposite direction. On March 25

Gates raised the bar for discharging gays. Now each dismissal must be approved by a flag or general officer and cannot rely on hearsay evidence or testimony by an unreliable third party.

Moreover, Gates has instructed a working group to outline the rules and regulations that must be changed to effectively and seamlessly implement the repeal of DADT.

The end of this outdated, discriminatory policy is within sight. With the support of the American people, the White House, our military leaders, and a bevy of "like-minded liberals" across the country, our Armed Forces can make the same seamless transition that our closest allies have already made. As service members in the United Kingdom, Israel, and Canada have found, military readiness and unit cohesion do not suffer when gay and lesbian service members are no longer forced to live a lie.

Part 4: Elaine Donnelly: Gays in the Military Law Deserves Continued Support

The most recent essay by Lawrence Korb and his colleagues at the Center for American Progress promotes repeal of the 1993 law stating that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the military–without acknowledging differences between the law and Bill Clinton's problematic administrative policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."[1] It is that policy–not the law that Congress actually passed–that creates the institutional dishonesty about which they complain.

The piece also fails to explain how a new LGBT law or policy opening the military to professed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered personnel would improve recruiting, retention, morale, and readiness. Instead, Korb et al. discuss political labels (liberal versus conservative), cite decades-old reports that Congress ultimately rejected when they passed the 1993 law, and rely upon the opinions of three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff whose personal views are out of step with the official advice given to Congress by the current military service chiefs of staff of the army, navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Competing Lists

Drawing upon limited research from one-sided gay activist sources, Korb and company have recycled a misfired attack against the formidable statement of 1,167 retired Flag and General Officers for the Military (FGOM) recommending that Congress retain the current law. They claim that it does not include a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, somehow overlooking retired Army General Hugh Shelton, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the Clinton Administration.

General Shelton and 50 more distinguished four-star generals and admirals personally signed the statement and returned it by regular mail. The list includes several military service chiefs and a number of combatant command, theater, and other major U.S. and allied force commanders, together with two Medal of Honor recipients and hundreds of retired flag and general officers who have led the men and women of our armed services at every echelon in both peace and war, past and present.

Nevertheless, these respected military leaders are considered less credible than the activist group Servicemembers United, which Korb et al. cite as a source. Affiliated with the nation's largest LGBT lobby–the Human Rights Campaign–Servicemembers United launched an unwarranted attack on the FGOM list in March 2010. In response, the Center for Military Readiness (CMR) published a detailed analysis titled "Failed Attack on the Flag & General Officers for the Military." The CMR report compared the FGOM list to a much smaller roster of retired personnel supporting repeal of the law compiled by the gay activist Michael D. Palm Center with the help of Brant Shalikashvili, son of former Joint Chiefs chairman General John Shalikashvili.[2]

Several times in 2008 the Palm Center drew media attention by releasing short lists of mostly lower-ranking officers and a handful of former civilian leaders calling for repeal of the 1993 law.[3] CMR compared the largest service group of signers on the FGOM list (698 army generals, or 60 percent of the total number of officers who signed the statement) with the Palm Center/Shalikashvili list (96 army generals, or 83 percent). (See Table 1.)

CMR also prepared a bar graph reflecting known retirement dates, which illustrated the fact that the FGOM group of army signatories served more recently (based on date of retirement) and therefore are younger on average than the 115 retired officers calling for repeal. For example, more than 50 percent of the FGOM army officers retired in the 1990s (an era described by Korb and company as "the last century") compared to 29 percent on the Palm Center/Shalikashvili list who retired in that decade. Almost 30 percent on the FGOM list retired in the 2000s (as of April 2010), compared to 19 percent on the Palm list. (See Table 2.)

Citing Servicemembers United, Korb and company also stooped to attack the credibility of a grieving widow who used her legal power of attorney to add the name of her recently deceased husband to the FGOM list. In a published note, the widow said he was a retired four-star general who had felt strongly about the issue. She did nothing to deserve this attack from LGBT activists and the Center for American Progress.

Advocacy, Not Evidence

My earlier essay put into perspective the minuscule number of discharges for homosexuality–less than 1 percent per year–that have occurred over the last 15 years. Most of these losses could have been avoided if the law stating that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the military had been implemented as Congress intended. Everyone can serve our country in some way, but as the law clearly states "There is no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces."

To divert attention from Defense Department figures, the activists have turned to allies in academia whose speculative figures do not hold up under closer examination.[4] They also claim that allowing gays to serve openly in the military would not be any more complicated than in 1991 when, they claim, homosexuals were allowed to serve openly in the Persian Gulf War.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has discredited this claim several times. The fable was nevertheless repeated without citation in a Palm Center report and in a Washington Post op-ed by General John M. Shalikashvili. In 1994 and again in August 2009, CRS reported that during the Persian Gulf War discharges for homosexuality proceeded at a normal rate. And according to retired Marine General Robert B. Johnston and several former commanders in a position to know, the alleged Defense Department suspension of discharges never happened.[5]

Not So Simple

In March 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates established a "Comprehensive Review Working Group" and directed it to find way ways to "minimize disruption" and "impacts, if any" that might ensue from legislative repeal of the law.[6] Gates's understatement was naive at best, since imposition of a non-discrimination policy for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders would not be simple. In the unique environment of the military, such a policy would require deployed personnel, who live for many months in close quarters offering little or no privacy, to accept personal exposure to others of the same sex who may be sexually attracted to them. This would be tantamount to ordering military women to get used to men living with them constantly in conditions the law describes as "forced intimacy."

There is no dispute about this. LGBT advocates insist they will not accept "separate but equal" accommodations for professed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered personnel applying or re-applying to serve on a retroactive basis. Nor would separate-quad sexual orientation living quarters be practical in deployed army and Marine land combat battalions, special operations forces and Navy SEALs, surface ships, and submarines.

In a March report the Center for American Progress recommended that authorities should "signal clearly that the military will not segregate housing, showering, and other common-use facilities based on sexual orientation." The recommended "sexual orientation" instruction, added to existing training programs, would attempt to overcome the normal human desire for modesty and privacy in sexual matters. Even if this were an appropriate mission for our military, it would be unlikely to succeed.

In the 2009 annual Military Times poll, only 30 percent of active-duty respondents said they would be "comfortable" with such arrangements in private areas such as showers. In the same poll, 58 percent expressed discomfort with privacy violations, but they would have no recourse except to decline re-enlistment. Many potential recruits would avoid the military altogether. In view of these consequences for recruiting and retention, claims that repeal of the 1993 law would not undermine readiness defy empirical evidence, properly defined as "practical experience and not theory."[7]

Informed Public Opinion

The general public is starting to understand this. In July 2010 the Military Culture Coalition (MCC) found that 48 percent of likely voters (including 67 percent of Republicans and 47 percent of Independents) preferred that Congress retain the law as it is. The overall 45 percent supporting repeal was a full 30 points less than the 75 percent figure claimed in the March 2010 ABC News/Washington Post poll of adults.[8]

Unlike previous polls of civilians, the MCC survey asked questions about advocacy group recommendations that are supposed to make the new policy "work."[9] It found that 52 percent of likely voters opposed the imposition of career-ending penalties against military personnel and chaplains who do not support homosexuality. In addition, 55 percent of respondents opposed modified training and education programs to enforce acceptance of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the military.

The Pentagon Spin Is In

The Defense Department Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG), which sent a polling survey instrument to 400,000 active duty and reserve troops, did not even ask them what they thought about such issues. In fact, the CRWG surveys and focus groups consciously refused to ask of the troops the question that members of Congress expected: Do you favor retention or repeal of the current law?

Nevertheless, on October 28, the AP and the Washington Post reported that an unnamed official was claiming that the CRWG survey found a majority of troops to be "OK" with the idea of serving with professed gays in the military. CMR asked CRWG co-chairman Jeh Johnson how answers to a question that had not even been asked could have been released to the media.

In his response, Johnson wrote, "The account of the survey presented was convoluted and confused, and it clearly did not come from someone who knew what they were talking about."[10] Why was the same response not given to the several reporters who had asked for comment? Absent any clarification or denial from the Pentagon, the media published worldwide a story that the CRWG's co-chairman privately admitted was not true. This suggests that irresponsible fabulists will release to the media headlines that precede and effectively disguise anything in the CRWG report that does not advance President Obama's intent to repeal the law.

High Standards, Sound Priorities

Proposed radical change demands a heavy burden of proof. Advocates of a new LGBT law or policy for the military have not carried that burden or made a convincing case. Pretentious civil rights rhetoric cannot erase the normal desire for sexual privacy in the real world of the military. And consistently small numbers and percentages of people discharged due to homosexuality contradict any claim that a national security emergency justifies repeal of the law.

It is not convincing to hold up as role models for America's armed forces the small, dissimilar militaries of foreign nations–none of which have adopted the extreme agenda being proposed for our military. Nor does it help to ignore the stated opinions of experienced and current military personnel of all ranks or to advocate zero tolerance and punishment for anyone who disagrees with the LGBT agenda. Implementation of this misguided policy would negatively affect even more cultural and legal issues, ranging from same-sex social events and housing to predictable pressures on the medical system upon which military families rely. Anyone believing this would be "simple" is not living in the real world.

The rationale for social policy changes begins with a choice of priorities. Advocates of this cause assign higher priority to individual career considerations than they do to the needs of the military and an effective national defense.

Policy changes involving flawed speculation, compromised standards, and elevated risks of social disruption would undermine the culture of the military and complicate the lives of thousands of good men and women who volunteer to serve. For their sake as well as the nation's, we have to get this right. We need to maintain our military as the strongest in the world–it is the only one we have.


[1] The law that Congress passed in 1993, Section 654, Title 10, U.S.C., is constantly mislabeled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" a concept that President Bill Clinton set forth in administrative regulations that are not consistent with the law. See this CMR report.

[2] The webpage of Brant Shalikashvili has vanished, but relevant pages describing his activities with the Palm Center on the issue of homosexuals in the military are on file with the author.

[3] See, for example, Michael D. Palm Center, "104 Generals and Admirals: Gay Ban Must End" November 17, 2008. As posted on the former webpage of Brant Shalikashvili, the list subsequently increased to 115.

[4] See Attitudes Are Not Free: Thinking Deeply About Diversity in the U.S. Armed Forces, chapter by Elaine Donnelly titled "Defending the Culture of the Military" pp. 277-278.

[5] Personal correspondence on file with the author. Lt. Gen. Johnston, who served as chief of staff at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at the time, would have been privy to any accommodation to that effect or conversation about it between Joint Chiefs chairman General Colin Powell and Gulf War commander General Norman Schwartzkopf.

[6] Letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Terms of Reference for CRWG, Mar. 2, 2010.

[7] The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition.

[8] Unlike other major news organization polls of adults in general, the MCC Survey sought the opinions of 1,000 likely voters nationwide. The Polling Company/WomanTrend conducted the poll in mid-July with randomly dialed phone calls, producing results with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

[9] For example, under "zero tolerance" policies involving what the Palm Center described in its May 2009 report as "carrots" and "sticks" military promotions would be contingent on full support of the new LGBT policy. Officials enforcing recommended "strong sanctions for noncompliance" would deny promotions to men and women who disagree for any reason, including religious conviction. Because denied promotions end military careers, mandatory "zero tolerance" policies would force from the military thousands of experienced people, including the potential flag and general officers of tomorrow.

[10] E-mail correspondence on file with the author.