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Political, Legal Wrangling Continues Over ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

November 12, 2010 at 5:56 PM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: And now to the continuing fight over repeal of the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in a California case that would have blocked enforcement on the ban of gays serving openly. That leaves the matter in Congress. Margaret Warner has our update.

MARGARET WARNER: There are more issues to consider than days left for Congress to tackle them before the end of the year, from taxes to treaties.

And then there’s one long-simmering matter coming to a head, whether to repeal the policy barring gays from serving openly in the armed forces. The matter has divided Congress and the military for years, and now, it seems, a particularly high-profile political family as well, on one side, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who helped block a repeal of the ban as part of the defense authorization bill in September. And, during his recent reelection campaign, he vowed to oppose repeal until it had been more thoroughly vetted.

On the other, his wife, Cindy. Today, she appears in an anti- bullying ad on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, or LGBT.

CINDY MCCAIN, Wife of Senator John McCain: Our political and religious leaders tell LGBT youth that they have no future. They can’t serve our country openly.

MARGARET WARNER: Government discrimination encourages bullies, she says.

CINDY MCCAIN: Our government treats the LGBT community like second- class citizens. Why shouldn’t they?

MARGARET WARNER: The ban has been in effect 17 years. Some 13,000 service members have been discharged for violating it. But now the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and their boss, the president, all want it rolled back. Mr. Obama spoke again last week.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have been a strong believer in the notion that if somebody is willing to serve in our military, in uniform, putting their lives on the line for our security, that they should not be prevented from doing so because of their sexual orientation.

MARGARET WARNER: The House OKed repeal last May, but the Senate turned it aside in September. Many senators said they first wanted to see the results of a Pentagon survey and study due December 1. A draft of that study is now being reviewed by Defense Secretary Gates and the top brass.

And today’s Supreme Court ruling gives them some breathing room. But, yesterday, a leaked account of the survey surfaced in The Washington Post. It reported that 70 percent of active-duty and reserve personnel believe reversing the ban would have positive, mixed, or nonexistent impact.

Post correspondent Ed O’Keefe reported the story.

ED O’KEEFE, The Washington Post: Of those that replied, they were asked questions like, you know, would you be uncomfortable serving with an openly gay colleague in combat? Would you have a problem living next door to one or showering in the same facility where you knew there was an openly gay colleague showering?

And, generally, it looks as if the answers are, no, I wouldn’t have a problem. And, critically, it looks as if, when it comes to the question of sort of intense combat situations, would you have an issue, most have said no, or they have said it wouldn’t really matter.

MARGARET WARNER: But, says O’Keefe, the survey also picked up the contrary view, particularly among Marines.

ED O’KEEFE: There is a higher percentage of opposition in the Marine Corps than there are in the other services. The only number we know for certain is that about 40 percent of the Marine Corps is opposed or concerned with allowing gays to serve openly.

MARGARET WARNER: That resistance from the Marines has gone public. Under questioning from McCain at his confirmation hearing in September, the new commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, left little doubt as to where he stood.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-Ariz.): In your written statement — and I quote — “In my personal view, the current law and associated policy have supported the unique requirements of the Marine Corps, and, thus, I do not recommend its repeal.”

GEN. JAMES AMOS, Marine Corps Commandant: Yes, sir, that sounds accurate.

MARGARET WARNER: Then, just this past weekend, General Amos reiterated that sentiment. Citing the intimate living and sleeping arrangements among Marines, he told reporters: “I don’t know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that’s what we’re looking at. It’s unit cohesion. It’s combat effectiveness.”

His remarks brought a swift rebuke from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, saying, “I was surprised by what he said, and surprised he said it publicly.”

The Washington Post’s O’Keefe says he believes it was General Amos’ latest comment that prompted one of his sources to leak details about the report.

ED O’KEEFE: One of the sources was very concerned, for example, that General Amos, the Marine commandant, had been speaking out over last weekend, saying, you know, we have got to be careful here; Marines, they serve in close quarters.

And the source believed that Amos at that point had seen the results that showed high percentages of opposition amongst Marines, and was trying to sort of get out ahead of the results, and start to craft the arguments for or against lifting the ban.

MARGARET WARNER: Traveling overseas last weekend, Defense Secretary Gates said he hoped the Senate would act before the end of this Congress, adding, “But I’m not sure what the prospects for that are.”

If the Senate doesn’t vote before Congress expires, repeal would have to be reintroduced in a new Republican-dominated House, where its chances are unclear.

McCain’s office says he’s consulting with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin about whether to include or strip the repeal language from the broader defense bill. His office had no comment on Cindy McCain’s ad.