'Don't ask, don't tell': Where the battle lines lie

Who advocates repealing the military's controversial policy on gay soldiers, and who wants to keep it in place?

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates presents a report concluding that openly gay men and women serving in the military is low risk.
(Image credit: Getty)

The Pentagon this week released a long-awaited report on the potential repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell," saying their is little risk to letting gay and lesbians serve openly in the military. Seven out of 10 members of the armed forces said the impact of lifting the ban would be "positive, mixed, or of no consequence at all." (Watch an AP report about the study.) The report energized people on both sides of the issue as the lame-duck Senate prepares for a possible vote on repealing the law before Christmas. Aside from soldiers, where do other influential players line up in this contentious debate?


The public

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A majority of Americans favor repealing DADT, according to a new poll. Fifty-eight percent of respondents to the Pew survey said gays should be allowed to openly serve in the military, with just 27 percent saying they were opposed to it. "These opinions have changed little in recent years," noted the pollsters. "Since 2005... roughly 60 percent have consistently favored" allowing gays in the military.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Admiral Mike Mullen, the highest-ranking officer in the United States Armed Forces, told a Senate committee he was in favor of repeal in February. He said it was "the right thing to do," and added that he was personally against effectively ordering soldiers to "lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens." Mullen made it clear he was stating his own opinion, not that of the military as a whole.

The president

On the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama vowed that he would repeal DADT, but he decided once he became president that he wanted the military's support before making good on his promise. Now that the Pentagon survey is complete, Obama has reiterated his desire to scrap a law that, he says, "weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness and violates fundamental principles of American fairness and equality."

The courts

In September, a federal judge ruled that DADT was unconstitutional. Discharging openly gay soldiers from the military is in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments, ruled U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips. But the Obama administration appealed the ruling, on the basis that it was up to Congress, not the courts, to change the policy.


The Marine Corps

Although a majority of soldiers as a whole are either in favor of, or ambivalent about serving alongside gay soldiers, the Marine Corps is overwhelmingly against it. The Pentagon survey found that two-thirds (67 percent) of Marines in combat roles said repealing DADT would harm their units' "cohesiveness."

The military top brass

Before the Pentagon survey was completed, the heads of the Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy expressed their opposition to a premature repeal of DADT. All agreed it was essential to consider the views of the soldiers themselves before the Senate voted on repeal. All four are scheduled to testify on the Pentagon survey before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday.

Sen. John McCain

The Arizona senator's view on DADT shifted during the course of this year. Previously, the war hero and former Republican presidential candidate has said he would support repeal if the military agreed it was a good idea. But following Admiral Mullen's statement in February, McCain told reporters he was "disappointed" at the joint chiefs chairman's testimony. "At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," he said. He has not yet responded to the Pentagon survey.

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