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The Troops Don’t Care About Sexual Orientation

“I do not support the idea of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell before our military members and commanders complete their review.” That’s what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said to explain his opposition to repealing the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy earlier this year. Graham isn’t alone. Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Scott Brown (R-MA), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) have all said—if only to avoid taking a stand on the controversial issue—that they would wait for the military’s latest study of the policy to make up their minds.

Well, the results are in. The study isn’t due to be released for another month, but Richard Engel told Rachel Maddow that he has learned some of what the study found. When soldiers were asked how they felt about serving with openly gay men and women, the most common answer was that they wouldn’t care. The second most common answer was that they would deal directly with the person in question. Taken together, those two answers accounted for a majority of the responses to the survey. There were some soldiers who said that they would take the issue up with their commanding officers, and other soldiers who simply hated the idea of serving with gay and lesbians. But most service members said either that it wouldn’t matter to them or that they could work it out directly with the their fellow soldiers. In Engel’s words, the study found that sexual orientation was “not a deal breaker” and that if Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were repealed the troops weren’t going to “be running from the army in droves.”

That’s consistent with what previous surveys have shown. A 2006 Zogby poll of military personnel found that 73% were personally comfortable with gays and lesbians. While a Military Times poll earlier this year did find that a small majority of service members opposed repeal of the policy, and that 10% would leave the service if the policy were repealed, it also found that 71% said they would definitely continue to serve if the policy were repealed. As sociologist David Segal told the Military Times, 10% is less than the number who said they would leave in the 1970s if women were admitted to West Point. And when women were admitted the number who did actually leave was far smaller than who said they would.

According to Engel, one of the miliitary’s study’s key findings is that it matters a great deal whether commanders support the policy. If the chain of command is committed to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, then most soldiers would adapt, just as they did when the armed forces were integrated racially, and just as they did when women were allowed to serve.

Of course, a federal court has already ruled that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell violates soldiers’ First Amendment right to speak openly about their personal lives. In her ruling, In her decision, Judge Virginia Phillips found that the evidence was that the policy actually hurts our military capability. But the Obama administration is appealing her decision. And it remains to be seen whether Congress will actually repeal the law or whether it will find other excuses to avoid the issue.


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