WASHINGTON (BP)–Supporters and opponents of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on homosexuals were busy Tuesday afternoon reading a lengthy 257-page report on the issue that will be at the heart of the political debate in the days ahead.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen held an afternoon press conference that coincided with the release of the report, which includes data from surveys of military personnel and their families on the issue of homosexuals in the military. Because Gates and Mullen support overturning the policy, supporters of the policy wanted to see what the report itself said instead of relying on what they viewed as possible “spin” from the two military leaders.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on the report Thursday and Friday, Dec. 2-3. Gates and Mullen will testify Thursday, while the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — all members of the Joint Chiefs — will appear Friday. Most if not all of the chiefs have gone on record in the past as supporting the current policy and opposing a repeal.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Nov. 17 he would hold a December lame-duck floor vote on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, although it’s unclear if he has the necessary votes. He didn’t have the votes in September, when every Senate Republican in attendance joined together with Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas, to filibuster the defense bill. Needing 60 votes to overcome the filibuster, Reid got only 57, but changed his vote from “yes” to “no” at the last minute in a procedural tactic that allows him to bring the bill up again.
Supporters of the current policy argue its repeal would harm religious freedom, privacy, military readiness and cohesion.
More than 60 chaplains signed a letter to Obama and Gates, urging them not to overturn the policy. The letter warned that reversing it not only will affect religious liberty but could even impact military readiness and troop levels because the military would be marginalizing “deeply held” religious beliefs.
“Marginalizing a large group of chaplains … will unavoidably harm readiness by diminishing morale,” the chaplains’ letter stated. “Similarly, making orthodox Christians — both chaplains and servicemen — into second-class Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Marines whose sincerely held religious beliefs are comparable to racism cannot help recruitment or retention.”
Compiled by Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Wednesday’s Baptist Press will include a more detailed story about the study.