WASHINGTON – Congress' attempt this week to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is nothing more than a political charade, said the head of a conservative Christian group.
"I think the American people when they see the whole story here [will see that] the military is in fact being used to advance a radical agenda, being used as a political payoff to this president's small portion of his political base," said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on Tuesday.
The White House and congressional Democrats hammered out a compromise on Monday, calling for the repeal of the Clinton-era policy that bars gays from serving openly in the military.
A vote is expected as early as Thursday.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a statement Tuesday, saying he continues to believe that ideally the Pentagon study should be complete before there is any legislation to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." But "with Congress having indicated that is not possible, the secretary can accept the language in the proposed amendment."
Though the proposal ensures that a repeal, if passed, would not become effective until the Pentagon completes its review – by Dec. 1 – on the impact it will have on troops, retired Marine Corps Gen. John J. Sheehan doesn't believe the provision carries any weight.
"Everyone says this study will continue to go on but this is a de facto repeal of the 1993 law which will create a cohesion and readiness problem in the United States military," he said Tuesday.
Perkins believes that lawmakers are moving fast on the vote because they are concerned the study would come back stating that a repeal could not be done with minimal impact on the troops.
"Most people when changing policy gather the facts first, then change the policy," Perkins said. "The question is, why move now? Why not wait until the military goes through the process and collects the data?"
The answer, he said, is clear. President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to short-circuit the process and drive the proposal through before they lose the House or Senate majority in November.
Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Jan Huly is also opposed to accelerating a repeal without the completion of the Pentagon study and input from service chiefs.
"We need to progress kind of carefully here with what we're doing," he said.
A recent Zogby poll commissioned by Family Research Council found that more than half of Americans (59 percent) believe a decision pertaining to homosexuals openly serving in the military is best made by military leaders. Less than a quarter said it should be made by Congress.
Huly contends that overturning "don't ask, don't tell" would hurt not only unit cohesion and readiness but also recruitment.
"What we have now is working," he said Tuesday in a media teleconference. "The ability to serve openly will be counterproductive and against the good order and discipline you're trying to instill."
The retired military officers acknowledge that there currently are gays serving in the military, which they are not opposed to. But their concerns lie with allowing homosexual behavior while in uniform.
"As long as they follow the rules, there's not a problem with it," said Sheehan. "It's when they start to become openly expressive in terms of a lifestyle and also activities that you start to break down unit cohesion and morale."
In a paper released Tuesday, Robert L. Maginnis – senior fellow for National Security at Family Research Council and a retired Army lieutenant colonel – rejects the argument that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy violates the civil rights of homosexuals.
"Military service is a privilege, and sometimes a duty, but it is never a 'right,'" he states. "Eligibility to serve in the military is limited on the basis of age, number of dependents, indebtedness, height, weight, and dozens of other characteristics. In many cases, it would be illegal to 'discriminate' on the basis of these characteristics in civilian employment – but not in the military, because of the unique demands and lifestyle of military service."
And while society may be becoming more accepting of homosexuality, military personnel policies should be based on the realities of the harsh battlefield and not on the values of an increasingly liberal society, he adds.
According to his paper, only 25 of the world's nearly 200 militaries allow open homosexuals to serve. The world's 10 largest militaries all ban homosexuals. Also, discharges in the U.S. due to homosexuality were only 0.37 percent of the total from 1994 to 2003. Between the years 1994 and 2008 there were 12,785 personnel discharged for homosexuality compared to 90,302 for drug use, 55,790 for failing to meet weight standards and 39,454 for pregnancy.