1,000+ Retired Officers Change Debate on Gays in the Military

Despite mixed signals from the Obama administration, a distinguished group of retired leaders called Flag & General Officers for the Military has taken a stand in support of the 1993 law stating that homosexuals are not eligible to serve openly in the military. That law, frequently mislabeled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” has been upheld by the courts as constitutional several times. It enjoys solid support among active duty military men and women who recognize its positive effect on recruiting, morale and readiness.

Legislation to repeal the law (H.R. 1283) nevertheless has been re-introduced in the 111th Congress. That initiative prompted the release of an open letter (pdf) personally signed by more than 1,000 retired flag and general officers who support the 1993 law.

The list (pdf) of statement signers, which includes 47 four-star leaders from all branches of the service and has since climbed to more than 1,100, is posted under the banner Flag & General Officers for the Military. The group’s website also displays an Issue Overview setting forth reasons why the high-ranking retired officers have reason for concern. Recruiting, retention, and overall readiness would be undermined if Congress passes legislation to repeal the 1993 law, Section 654, Title 10, U.S.C.

Obama administration officials appear equivocal on this issue, even though the White House website continues to declare support for repeal of the law regarding gays in the military. In January, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs answered a question about the administration’s intent to repeal the law with one word: “Yes.” But on a recent Fox News Sunday program, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Chris Wallace that the administration wants “to push that one down the road a bit.”

The situation remains unpredictable because liberals in Congress have declared their intent to act on their own. Initial hearings and possible legislative committee action could occur in May or June, accelerating to actual repeal if supporters of the law are not prepared to defend it. Anticipating contingencies, on March 31 the independent Flag & General Officers for the Military project delivered a concise and respectful open letter addressed to the White House, Pentagon, and Members of Congress, which was supported by 1,050 hand-written signatures. An introduction to the open letter notes:

Among us are a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, several Service Chiefs, a number of combatant command, theater, and other major U.S. and allied force commanders, together with a Medal of Honor recipient and hundreds of flag and general officers who have led the men and women of our armed services at every echelon, and in both peace and war, past and present.

The letter continues with an unequivocal declaration that could be decisive in refocusing the debate:

…Our past experience as military leaders leads us to be greatly concerned about the impact of repeal on morale, discipline, unit cohesion, and overall military readiness. We believe that imposing this burden on our men and women in uniform would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force.

As a matter of national security, we urge you to support the 1993 law regarding homosexuals in the military, and to oppose any legislative, judicial, or administrative effort to repeal or invalidate the law.

The timetable for consideration of the repeal bill is uncertain, but action could begin when the House Armed Services Committee considers the National Defense Authorization bill for FY 2010. Roll Call has reported that Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) will replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who has accepted a State Department post, as primary sponsor of H.R. 1283. In the Senate, Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy reportedly is seeking a Republican cosponsor for companion legislation.

Current law recognizes that the military is a “specialized society” that is “fundamentally different from civilian life.” It requires a unique code of personal conduct, and demands “extraordinary sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, in order to provide for the common defense.” The law appreciates military personnel who, unlike civilians who go home after work, must accept living conditions that are often “characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy.”

H.R. 1283 would scrap all of that and forbid discrimination based on “homosexuality or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived.” Commanders, mid-level career officers and non-commissioned leaders would have to divert valuable time from combat training trying to define what the new law means.

Absent current law, “nondiscrimination” policies would require the accommodation of professed (not discrete) homosexuals in all branches and communities of the military, including Army and Marine infantry, Special Operations Forces, Navy SEALS, surface ships, and submarines, on a constant (24/7) basis. Mandatory “human rights” classes and non-judicial disciplinary proceedings will enforce “zero tolerance” of dissent, regardless of the impact on team cohesion and mission accomplishment.

No one has explained how repeal of the 1993 law would improve discipline, team cohesion, and readiness in America’s armed forces.

The remaining week of Congress’ Easter recess will present many opportunities for concerned individuals to discuss this issue with their own members of Congress. More than 1,000 retired general and admirals have stepped forward to defend sound principles and policies for the All-Volunteer force. Active duty men and women and civilians who care about the military certainly hope that Congress will listen.