The Army chief of staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee he would not recommend the immediate repeal of the 17-year-old law banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces because it would increase stress on deployed combat units.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said, "Implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be a major cultural and policy change in the middle of a war," he said. "It would be implemented by a force and leaders that are already stretched by the cumulative effects of almost a decade of war."
But he added in the future, "Properly implemented, I do not envision that it would keep us from accomplishing our worldwide missions, including combat operations." He assessed the risk of repeal as "moderate."
Casey’s concern over immediate repeal was shared by Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, and Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff.
Amos said, "If the law is changed, successfully implementing repeal and assimilating openly homosexual marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level."
Schwartz disputed the report accompanying the survey’s contention that the short-term risk to readiness was low and suggested delaying the repeal until 2012.
Gen. James Cartwright, USMC, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations and Adm. Robert Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard, testified at the Dec. 3 hearing they supported immediate repeal.
The committee convened for two days of hearings in early December during the lame duck session of the 111th Congress following the release of a Defense Department survey of service members and families on implementing repeal of the law.
More than 115,000 service members and families responded to the survey. About 30 percent of the total number respondents expressed concern over repeal. Between 40 percent and 60 percent of Marine Corps respondents expressed concern over repeal or predicted a negative impact.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the committee, called the survey sent to about 400,000 service members and families, town hall meetings and solicitations of views from those not sent the survey "an unprecedented effort to seek the opinion" of all concerned and "even-handed."
Addressing the discrepancy in attitudes between service members who have deployed with gays and lesbians and those who have not, he added, "Real world experience is a powerful antidote to stereotypes."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ranking member, said the issue of gays and lesbians openly serving in the armed forces is "a complex and emotional subject." He added, "Whether the law should be repealed … is the fundamental question that must be answered by the Congress."
During the Dec. 2 hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the department’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson, a co-author of the report, warned about the dangers of having the courts decide the issue.
Johnson said, "The constitutionality of the law is now in litigation again. …We got a taste of that in October and November. In the space of eight days we had to shift the course of enforcement of that law twice … over the course of a month four times."
Gates added that the court rulings did not provide for the certification process called for in the legislation. If the legislation is passed, he said the he would not sign off on a repeal "until all the training has been completed" and the service chiefs are satisfied that it can be accomplished effectively. "This is not ‘slow-rolling’" the repeal but being "thorough and careful."
The House has included a provision in its version of the defense authorization bill for repeal. Earlier, the Senate panel sent to the floor its version of the authorization bill also calling for repeal. In debate this summer, Senate supporters could not muster the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster on the authorization bill and it was pulled from the floor.
Repeal remains in doubt in the Senate, although Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; and John Ensign, R-Nev., have indicated they would vote for repeal if there is full debate of the authorization bill with the possibility of adding amendments and tax cut legislation is cleared first.
In commenting on the survey report, Casey said that presuming having an openly gay or lesbian service member in a unit would "cause an unacceptable risk to good order and discipline" was no longer the case. "I don’t believe that’s true anymore. I don’t believe a substantial majority of our soldiers believe that’s true."