The 17-year-old debate about whether to allow openly gay troops to serve in the military escalated last week with the release of a Pentagon report that found that 70 percent of the military believed that repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law would have little to no impact on their units. But the report found much stronger opposition within the Marine Corps, the military's elite Special Operations community, and the Army's ground combat forces, suggesting that many of those fighting the nation's wars would be far from comfortable serving alongside an openly gay service member.
The issue is divisive both inside and outside the military. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers on Thursday that it was imperative that Congress act before a federal court unilaterally struck down the ban, plunging the military into a period of uncertainty about what rules to enforce. But on Friday, the four-star heads of the Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force all warned against trying to repeal the law this year, arguing that doing so would add stress to forces already pushed nearly to the breaking point by long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marine Commandant James Amos warned that repealing the ban had the "strong potential for disruption at the small-unit level" and could damage the effectiveness, morale and cohesion of his forces.
Let's talk this week about the report and how policymakers should proceed. Should the views of combat personnel fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan be given more weight than the views of the rest of the military, even if combat troops compose only a fraction of the total force? Should the ban be eliminated throughout the armed forces at the same time or in phases, with some branches of the military integrating openly gay personnel before others do? What, if anything, should be done with troops who simply refuse to serve alongside openly gay colleagues? And perhaps most important, are Democrats right to try to eliminate the ban during the current lame-duck session of Congress? Or are Republicans correct in arguing that a change of this magnitude shouldn't be considered during a time of war?