(Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s push to allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military is creating divisions within the armed forces and Congress, at a time when the United States is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is pushing for a review, due to be completed by December 1, on how to implement the new policy further down the road.
Critics of Obama’s initiative prefer to stick to the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” law which allows homosexuals to serve in secret, but discharges them if their sexual orientation becomes known.
Some supporters of lifting the ban want faster action, calling for a moratorium on “don’t ask, don’t tell” until a new law is enacted, but that possibility is roundly opposed by the Pentagon.
Here are some of the key positions articulated this year by political and military leaders on the issue:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.”
U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: “The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it. ... We received our orders from the commander in chief and we are moving out accordingly.”
ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: “Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal and professional belief that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be the right thing to do. ... Putting individuals in a position that every single day they wonder whether today’s going to be the day, and devaluing them in that regard, just is inconsistent with us as an institution. I have served with homosexuals since 1968. ... Everybody in the military has”.
MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT, GENERAL JAMES CONWAY: ”At this point, I think that the current policy works. At this point, notwithstanding the results that the study will bring forward, my best military advice to this committee, to the secretary and to the president would be to keep the law such as it is.
ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF, GENERAL GEORGE CASEY: “I do have serious concerns about the impact of repeal of the law on a force that’s fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight-and-a-half years. ... We just don’t know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness.”
AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STAFF, GENERAL NORTON SCHWARTZ: “I have two strong convictions on this, sir. One is that this is not the time to perturb the force that is, at the moment, stretched by demands in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere without careful deliberation. And two, should the law change, our standards of conduct will continue to apply to all airmen.”
CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS, ADMIRAL GARY ROUGHEAD: “My personal view is what is in the best interest of the United States Navy. And that is to go forward with the assessment that has been called for by the Secretary of Defense to allow us to assess the force that we have today... Because only with that information can we talk about the force that we have. Not someone else‘s, not another country‘s, about the United State Navy, in my case.”
COMMANDER OF U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ, GENERAL RAY ODIERNO: “We’re in two wars right now. So I want to see it done properly, and so I want to make sure we get the information so we can implement a policy that we’re going to go forward with in a proper way. I‘m more concerned with that than I am, really, the issue of gays or not -- no gays in the military.”
REP. BUCK MCKEON, RANKING REPUBLICAN ON HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: “Many of us on this Committee have serious concerns with putting our men and women in uniform through such a divisive debate while they are fighting two wars.”
REP. IKE SKELTON, DEMOCRAT, CHAIRMAN OF HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: “I am personally not for changing the law.”
SENATOR CARL LEVIN, DEMOCRAT, CHAIRMAN OF SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: “I did not find the arguments used to justify ”don’t ask, don’t tell“ convincing when it took effect in 1993, and they are less so now. I agree with what President Obama said in his State of the Union address, that we should repeal this discriminatory policy.”
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, RANKING REPUBLICAN ON SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: “At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the ”don’t ask, don’t tell“ policy.”
Writing by Phil Stewart; editing by Todd Eastham