US President-elect Barack Obama has said the ban on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the Armed Forces will come to an end.
75% of Americans agree that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law should be repealed, but some conservative activists have claimed that gay personnel will “destroy” the country’s military.
Talk radio polemicist “Gunny” Bob Newman has even claimed that gays will mean more HIV+ soldiers, especially in the case of a blood transfusion from “an openly gay person with a very active sexual, open lifestyle.”
While Mr Newman’s claims have been roundly dismissed, not least because all applicants for military service are screened for HIV at enlistment and every then two years, other critics have used new opinion poll data to claim there is disquiet among Armed Forces personnel about an end to the ban.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Centre for Military Readiness (CMR), has appeared on the National Review Online and Fox News quoting a survey conducted by the Military Times which found that 58% of respondents oppose openly gay service and 10% claim they would not re-enlist if the ban were lifted.
The Centre for Military Readiness claims that a “sexual agenda” is being pushed that “advances the goals of gay activist groups.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a US federal law passed in 1993.
If army personnel are discovered to be LGB then they are sacked, but commanding officers are not allowed to ask about their sexual orientation.
Since 1993 more than 12,500 men and women have been dismissed.
The Military Times poll of those on active duty found that 71% would continue to serve if gays are allowed to serve openly.
Just under 10% said they would not re-enlist or extend my service and 14% said they would “consider not re-enlisting or extending my service.”
“Before voting to repeal the law, members of Congress, and President-elect Barack Obama, ought to do the math,” said Ms Donnelly.
“A rough estimate using Defence Department numbers for all service branches and components, totalling more than 2 million, indicates that a loss of one in ten (almost 10%) would cost the military approximately 228,600 people — more than the active-duty Marine Corps (200,000).
“If an additional 14% decided to leave, the voluntary exodus would translate into a loss of almost 527,000 — a figure approaching the size of today’s active-duty Army (more than 545,000).
“Estimates of losses in active-duty forces alone would range between 141,000 (10%) and 323,000 (23%).”
Researchers at the University of California-based Michael D Palm Centre, who study the gay ban, have rubbished her claims.
“The poll is not based on a random sampling pool but on the self-selected pool of readers of that publication who tend to be older and more conservative than the military population at-large, a fact which skews the results against gay service.
“Second, opinions about the policy are wholly distinct from actual behaviour, and bigoted attitudes do not predict discriminatory behaviour.
“When Britain and Canada polled their troops before ending their gay bans, two thirds said they would oppose the change and, in one survey, nearly half said they’d refuse to serve with gays; but when the changes were actually made, almost no one resigned. The same scenario played out at West Point when women were admitted.”
Palm Centre researchers said that opinion in the military is actually far more favourable toward gay service than the Military Times poll suggests.
In the 1990s, the percentage of men in the Army who “strongly oppose” gays serving in uniform dropped nearly in half, from 67% to 37%.
In 2004, an Annenberg poll found that among junior enlisted personnel, a slight majority favored openly gay service.
In 2006, a Zogby poll of Iraq and Afghanistan vets found that 72% were “personally comfortable” around gays.
“The real news here is the opposite of what Donnelly claims,” said Dr. Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the Palm Centre and author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America.
“While the media has reported it as news that the military opposes gay service, the trend is toward much greater tolerance: the 58% figure, which would actually be closer to 50% in a randomised poll, is a big drop from the 74% who opposed gay service in 1993, when the current policy was created.
“Gays already serve openly throughout the US military and we have no problems attributed to this; the force has hardly been destroyed.”
An estimated 65,000 lesbian and gay service members serve on active duty and in the reserves of the United States military, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network, an organisation dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel.