San Diego Beyond the courtroom arguments about “disrupting the troops” and “unit cohesion” are the nitty gritty details behind the Pentagon’s fight to go slow on allowing openly gay troops.
Will straight and gay troops have to shower next to one another? Will the military have to provide benefits to gay partners, and can it afford to? And the biggest question of all: Will gays be harassed or intimidated?
It comes down to changing the culture, and top brass say they need more time. The military has been long resistant and, at times, hostile to gays, and it draws much of its 2.4 million members from socially conservative parts of the country.
“The real issues will be not what happens on the battlefield, but what happens on posts,” said David R. Segal, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who has written extensively on the military’s personnel policies and recruiting.
For many troops, “they don’t mind suspecting their colleagues are gay, but they don’t want to know for sure,” he said.
Gay rights advocates say the government’s efforts to overturn a federal judge’s order halting the enforcement of “don’t ask, don’t tell” are unnecessary. They contend there were no huge eruptions of violence with the integration of women and blacks, even though the military had to contend with race riots among the ranks during the Vietnam War era.
Opponents of repeal point out that women have never been integrated into combat units. Women are still banned from many front-line units like infantry and special operations.
Advocates acknowledge that harassment will likely happen, just as it continues today with those groups. They say another aspect of military culture — following orders — will override any temptation to intimidate gays.
“If your commander-in-chief says this is the new law, then that’s the way we follow it and we make it work,” said David Hall, a former Air Force staff sergeant who was discharged under the 1993 Clinton-era policy.
The fate of the law remained in doubt Wednesday, as a federal appeals court temporarily granted the government’s request for a freeze of U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillip’s order.
The court instructed lawyers for the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay rights group that brought the lawsuit successfully challenging the policy, to file arguments in response by Monday. The judges would then decide whether to extend the temporary stay while it considers the government’s appeal of Phillips’ ruling that the policy was unconstitutional.
It was unclear what effect the temporary freeze would have on the Pentagon, which has already informed recruiters to accept openly gay recruits and has suspended discharge proceedings for gay service members.
Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, declined to say whether the Defense Department would roll back its guidance to military lawyers and recruiters that they must abide by last week’s injunction from Phillips.
It has been assumed, however, that the Pentagon would revert to its previous policy if a stay were to be granted.
Seeking to suspend or overturn Phillips’ ruling leaves the Obama administration arguing against its own policy goals of repeal and against the majority opinion among the Democratic base most likely to turn out for midterm elections next month.
Allowing the courts to steer the lifting of the ban leaves military leaders feeling rushed and misled.
Nervous about forcing the change with so much opposition at the senior uniformed ranks of the Pentagon, Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates devised a plan: They would back President Barack Obama’s repeal plan but move slowly.
They ordered a yearlong study on how to repeal the law without hurting the military’s ability to fight. Top military officials thought they had bought time to prepare the uniformed forces, spouses, families and veterans for openly gay service.