WASHINGTON – A group of US Senators are introducing legislation to end a ban on gays serving openly in the military -- a plan backed by President Barack Obama but opposed by some top brass.
The current law, dubbed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," calls for service members to be discharged if they disclose that they are homosexual.
The law "is inconsistent with our most important national values and diminishes our military readiness," one of the bill's sponsors, Connecticut independent Senator Joe Lieberman told reporters.
"The record is now clear that the application of the current 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy has diminished America's military readiness," he said.
"There are estimates that 4,000 of our troops per year leave service voluntarily because of Don't ask, Don't tell," Lieberman added.
A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in July 2009.
Advocates of repealing the ban say other countries, including NATO allies and Israel, have not experienced any breakdown in discipline or battle readiness as a result of permitting gays to serve openly in uniform.
But opponents say the military is already under strain as it fights two wars and that large numbers of service members could quit if the change is introduced.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has strongly endorsed Obama's plan to end the ban, saying the current law "forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
The chief of the US Marines, however, openly broke with Obama and Admiral Mullen last week in testimony to Congress.
General James Conway told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the current policy worked and any bid to lift the ban should answer the question: "do we somehow enhance the war fighting capabilities of the United States Marine Corps by allowing homosexuals to openly serve?"
The bill’s legislative path will be rocky; Lieberman could not say he was assured of having 60 votes to push it through the Senate. He was hopeful but skeptical of Republican support — most congressional Republicans say the policy has worked, and in an interview with The Hill last week, 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain said many top military officers are still wary of a repeal.
Moreover, some conservative Democrats such as Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska are likely to be skeptical of a repeal, meaning Democratic leaders may not be able to count on them among their 59-member caucus, according to The Hill.
"The purpose of this act is to institute in the Armed Forces a policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation," states the Senate bill, which is meant to replace the 1993 law.
The Pentagon plans a review to examine the possible effect of lifting the ban and said on Tuesday it would focus in part on how such a step might impact the "readiness" of the armed forces.
The Pentagon said the review, due to be completed by December 1, would seek out the views of troops as well as military families on the issue.
Lieberman and Democrat Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have called for a moratorium on further dismissals of gays under the current law while the Pentagon conducts its review.
The top general and senior official appointed to lead the assessment, General Carter Ham and Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, told lawmakers on Wednesday the review would include a survey of US troops and take into account the experience of other armies that permit gays to serve openly.
Ham said the review team would seek out the views of gays dismissed from the military but acknowledged the difficulty of interviewing gays currently serving as they must keep their sexual orientation quiet under the current law.
"We don't yet know how to do that," Ham said.
© AFP 2017