The Military Has Spoken

Undecided Senators Should Support Repealing DADT

The Pentagon’s comprehensive report as well as the testimony of our military leaders should encourage these undecided senators to support repeal now.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, listens to a question on Capitol Hill as they testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy hearing.
  (AP/Alex Brandon)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, listens to a question on Capitol Hill as they testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy hearing.   (AP/Alex Brandon)

Time is quickly running out for Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This policy, which bans openly gay men and women from serving in the military, has severely undermined our military’s readiness and effectiveness by discharging more than 14,000 qualified soldiers from our armed forces. It is outdated, discriminatory, and ineffective.

The Senate is currently debating the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Bill that contains DADT repeal language identical to that passed in the House earlier this year. The DADT repeal provision adopts a careful and sensible approach by requiring the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to certify that open service would not harm the military’s standards of combat effectiveness and readiness. Even after certification, Congress has 60 days to review the policy recommendations for implementation before the military initiates repeal. Perhaps most importantly, repealing DADT legislatively avoids a potentially calamitous and disruptive implementation of repeal should the courts suddenly overturn DADT.

In other words, the DADT repeal language currently being considered puts the Pentagon in firm control of exactly how and when to implement open service.

Even with this cautious plan and a year spent debating the issue, several senators still remain undecided on whether or not they will support repealing DADT. These same senators requested the input of our troops and of our military leaders before making a determination on whether or not they would vote to repeal the current policy. Last week, the military honored that request in two clear ways.

First, the Department of Defense released its comprehensive report on repealing DADT. This report surveyed more than 115,000 active-duty troops and more than 44,000 of their spouses. It also included recommendations on how to most effectively and efficiently implement repeal of DADT. Second, our nation’s top military leaders testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, providing senators ample opportunity to question the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military’s service chiefs.

The results of both the Pentagon report and the military leaders’ testimony are unequivocal. Implementing repeal can occur efficiently, professionally, and with minimal disruption.

In addition to recommendations for implementing repeal, the Pentagon report reveals that the vast majority of troops and their spouses support ending the military’s ban on open service. Seventy percent of service members said they would be able to “work together to get the job done” with a gay service member in their immediate units. Sixty-nine percent said they worked in a unit with a co-worker that they believed to be gay or lesbian. And 92 percent of those who think or know they are working with someone gay or lesbian stated that their unit’s “ability to work together” was either “very good,” “good,” or “neither good nor poor.” This includes 89 percent of those in Army combat arms units and 84 percent of those in Marine combat arms units.

Moreover, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen reaffirmed the importance of repealing DADT this year legislatively rather than through the courts. The leaders of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard further indicated that repeal can be carried out with minimal risk to military effectiveness. For example:

  • General George Casey, chief of the Army, lauded the military’s “seasoned leaders, who, with appropriate guidance and direction, can oversee the implementation of repeal … the implementation principles in the [Pentagon] report constitute a solid basis upon which to develop implementation plans.”
  • Admiral Gary Roughhead, chief of naval operations, emphasized that “legislative repeal affords us the time and the structured process needed to effectively implement this significant change within our Armed Forces.”
  • Even repeal skeptic General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said, “Could we implement repeal at this time? The answer is yes. … Should Congress change the law then our nation’s Marine Corps will faithfully support the law.”
  • General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that “there is little to suggest that the issues associated with a change in the law and DOD policy will diminish if we wait on the uncertain promise of a less challenging future.”

Perhaps the most revealing moment of the hearings occurred when Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) asked each service chief: “If we change this policy can your branch in the U.S. military make it work?” Each gave the same, resounding answer: “Yes.”

The results are clear that repealing DADT legislatively bears little risk to military effectiveness, puts control in the hands of the Pentagon, and avoids a potentially disruptive judicial repeal. The president agrees. Our military leaders agree. And the troops agree. It is time to repeal DADT.

A tight legislative calendar, however, may prevent the Senate from taking action on this issue during the current lame duck session. The Senate must also contend with the expiring Bush tax cuts, the START treaty, unemployment benefits, and passing a continuing resolution to keep the government operating.

Opponents of DADT repeal claim that passing a defense authorization bill requires weeks of debate and, as a result, the Senate lacks the time to pass a bill before the completion of the 111th Congress. But the Senate has historically spent relatively little time debating the defense reauthorization bill. The Senate has never spent more than five days debating the defense bill since 1990, and in one instance, it only took one day. And while Majority Leader Harry Reid hopes to adjourn on December 17, an increasing cadre of senators has stated that the Senate should stay in session as long as it takes to repeal DADT, including Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has stated his support of this idea.

So while the clock is ticking, there is still ample time in the current lame duck session to repeal DADT.

Many undecided senators requested the military’s input before they would take a position on repealing DADT. Now that these senators have received that input, it is time for them to take a stance. And given the results of the Pentagon report and the testimony of our military’s top leaders, that stance should be to support repealing DADT as soon as possible through congressional action—not the courts.

Below, we list those senators who committed to listening to our military leaders and troops, as well as those senators’ current positions on DADT repeal. Only one senator, Scott Brown, has gone from being undecided to supporting repeal now that the military has weighed in on this issue. The other senators should remember their pledge to consider the military’s position on DADT and now honor that commitment by supporting repeal.

Senator Stance on repeal before the Pentagon’s report and testimony Current position on DADT repeal
Scott Brown (R-MA) "I am keeping an open mind, but I do not support moving ahead until I am able to finish my review [and] the Pentagon completes its study." Supports repeal: "I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on the Secretary’s recommendations."
Lindsey Graham (R-SC) "They [the military] should be included in this. I’m open-minded to what the military may suggest." Opposes repeal: Remains concerned about change in policy during wartime
Judd Gregg (R-NH) "I don’t support repealing it until the joint service chiefs have told us they think it’s good for the military." Undecided: Has not issued a statement since the release of the Pentagon report
Mark Kirk (R-IL) "I think we should wait for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to report as they are scheduled in December." Undecided: Waiting to meet with the chief of naval operations before taking a position
Joe Manchin (D-WV) "The [then] governor doesn’t believe the rules should be changed until the battlefield commanders can certify it doesn’t hurt unit cohesion." Undecided: Has not issued a statement since the release of the Pentagon report
John McCain (R-AZ) "I would welcome a report done by the Joint Chiefs of Staff … that would consider the impact of repeal on our armed services." Opposes repeal: "I will not agree to have this bill go forward."
Mark Pryor (D-AR) "Let’s let the military professionals work through their process. I’d hate to kind of short-circuit that with congressional action, so I’d rather let [the Pentagon review] occur before we start making policy." Undecided: Currently reviewing the report—"You can still put me down in the undecided column."
Olympia Snowe (R-ME) "We should all have the opportunity to review that report … as we reevaluate this policy and the implementation of any new changes." Undecided: Expressed concern about supporting repeal, namely, the higher proportion of troops in combat units that are opposed to repeal
George Voinovich (R-OH) "It would be logical to wait for the Department of Defense to issue its report on DADT. … I will carefully study this determination when it is completed." Undecided: "It is unclear whether there is sufficient time this year for the Senate to consider DADT."
Jim Webb (D-VA) "The survey of the members of our military … should be completed and assessed before the Congress moves forward on any legislative changes to the DADT policy." Undecided: Has not made formal statement, though appears supportive in hearings

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Crosby Burns

Policy Analyst

Jeff Krehely

Senior Vice President, Domestic Policy