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Military chiefs oppose repeal as ‘Don’t Ask’ votes near

Updated (10:14 p.m. Eastern): The House passed the amendment overturning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, 234-194. The Senate committee passed it, 16-12. See Friday’s BP for full coverage.

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress neared action Thursday to overturn the military’s ban on open homosexual service despite the heads of the four branches of the U.S. Armed Forces expressing opposition to the current effort to change the policy.

Votes were expected later in the day or Friday in both the full House of Representatives and a Senate committee to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. A Democratically controlled Congress adopted that law in 1993 with bipartisan support. If the measure is reversed this year, it appears it will occur with the help of few Republican votes in the Democrat-controlled chambers.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prevents homosexuals from serving openly but also prohibits military commanders from asking service members if they are homosexual.

Advocates of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” oppose repeal because they say it will harm military readiness, cohesion, privacy, recruitment and retention, as well as the religious freedom of many service members and chaplains.

The House and Senate plan to vote on repeal of the policy as part of a deal reached Monday by the White House and congressional leaders. If it passes as an amendment to an annual defense authorization bill, the repeal would not go into effect until the Pentagon has finished a study of the issue Dec. 1. The agreement requires that President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen sign off on repeal of the policy. All three are on record in support of repeal.

Gates implemented a comprehensive review of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in March. As part of the study, the Pentagon is eliciting feedback from military personnel and their families. Gates has expressed his desire that Congress wait to act until the review is completed.

The chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — reiterated their support for completing review of the current policy before Congress acts. They all said delaying legislative action until the review is complete would indicate to military members their views matter.

The chiefs’ viewpoints came in letters responding to a request Tuesday from Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., regarding their views on the amendment. As part of their responses, they said:

— “I remain convinced that it is critically important to get a better understanding of where our Soldiers and Families are on this issue, and what the impacts on readiness and unit cohesion might be, so that I can provide informed military advice to the President and Congress. I also believe that repealing the law before the completion of the review will be seen by the men and women of the Army as a reversal of our commitment to hear their views before moving forward” (Gen. George Casey, Army).

— “My concern is that legislative changes at this point, regardless of the precise language used, may cause confusion on the status of the law in the Fleet and disrupt the review process itself by leading Sailors to question whether their input matters” (Adm. Gary Roughead, Navy).

— “I believe it is important, a matter of keeping faith with those currently serving in the Armed Forces, that the Secretary of Defense commissioned review be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the DA/DT law…. To do otherwise, in my view, would be presumptive and would reflect an intent to act before all relevant factors are assessed, digested and understood” (Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force).

— “I encourage the Congress to let the process the Secretary of Defense created to run its course. Collectively, we must make logical and pragmatic decisions about the long-term policies of our Armed Forces — which so effectively defend this great nation” (Gen. James Conway, Marine Corps).

McCain told Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Mich., repeal of the 1993 law “clearly reflects delivery of a political promise that is being kept.”

Levin is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and McCain is the lead Republican on the panel.

Obama declared in his January State of the Union address he would work this year “with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”

Also citing the pre-emption of the Pentagon review, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said in a May 26 letter to congressional leaders he is “troubled that Congress is even considering moving forward on repeal without first hearing from our troops. By approving a repeal, even if implemented after the Defense Department releases its survey of 300,000 service members in December, Congress will have rendered their feedback irrelevant.”

Land, president of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called for opposition to the amendment “in the strongest possible terms.”

Land’s letter went to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D.-Md., and Minority Leader John Boehner, R.-Ohio, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the Armed Services committees in both houses and swing-vote Democrats on the Senate committee.

In other developments leading to Thursday’s vote:

— The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) sent a letter to all members of Congress Wednesday saying repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law does not resolve the religious liberty concerns that have been raised. “At a minimum, any repeal of current law must be accompanied by robust statutory religious liberty protections to ensure that Service members do not lose the very liberties they are fighting to protect for American,” the ADF letter said. In late April, 41 chaplains from several denominations told Obama and Gates in a letter the careers of many, if not most, military chaplains would end if the policy is overturned, either because they leave voluntarily or are pressured to depart. They also said a policy change could affect which biblical texts chaplains are permitted to preach on.

— Secret homosexuals in the military are three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than heterosexuals, the Family Research Council (FRC) said in a report released Wednesday. The analysis of the Armed Forces’ own data on more than 1,600 sexual assaults found 8.2 percent were homosexual in nature, mostly male on male. FRC based its estimate of the likelihood of homosexual assaults as compared to those by heterosexuals by using the assumption that 2.7 percent of the military is homosexual — a statistic derived from surveys of the general population.

— A Zogby International poll released May 17 found 59 percent of Americans believe military leaders would be best at deciding whether homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the Armed Services, while 23 percent said Congress would be best at making that determination. The poll, commissioned by FRC, reported 18 percent said “neither” or were unsure.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this article.