Back when it looked like Congress would vote on repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” (before the Republicans blocked the attempt with a filibuster), the Pentagon ordered a yearlong global study to see how troops would react to serving alongside openly gay service members. When the study was first announced, gay-rights groups attacked the questions’ assumption that troops wouldn’t want to serve alongside soldiers who no longer had to stay in the closet. The same survey was cited as a reason to halt Judge Virginia Phillips’s injunction on enforcing the unconstitutional policy. The results were supposed to be revealed December 1, along with the Pentagon’s plan for the logistics of a repeal. But officials leaked the findings to NBC News’ Richard Engel, who shared the results on The Rachel Maddow Show last night. And based on the early word, equal-rights advocates needn’t have worried.
Engel says respondents’ answers were classified into four categories: (1) it’s really not that big a deal, (2) it’s not a big deal, but if I’m uncomfortable with something, I’ll address the source directly, (3) I’m uncomfortable, I’m going to raise the issue with my chain of command, (4) hi, I’m a member of Westboro Baptist Church. The No. 1 answer to questions like “What if your commanding officer is gay? Would you follow orders? Would you take a shower? … What if a gay couple lived next to you on the base?” was “I don’t care,” says Engel.” The second most popular answer was, it’s not that big a deal, but if something bothered me, I’d deal with the person directly. In tandem, the responses show “an accepting outlook.”
So where does this leave the possibility of a repeal? The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary stay on Judge Phillips’s order, with full arguments on the appeal beginning in February. The Department of Justice said they were just following the mandate of their office by appealing, but even the conservative litigator Ted Olson, who’s appealing the Prop 8 ruling, says that if a judge found DADT unconstitutional, the Department of Justice isn’t necessarily obliged to object.
It remains to be seen how quickly Secretary Gates and top military official Mike Mullen, who have both agreed that DADT unfairly discriminates, will move without potential backlash from troops as an excuse.
We have to say, though, the survey’s results do seem to give a little weight to Obama’s position, which has seemed both cowardly and awkward at times, that an “orderly legislative process” is the right path to a repeal. There is something about hearing from the troops themselves — in a survey commissioned by the Pentagon — that this just isn’t a big deal that makes the tenability of a repeal undeniable. Though if the polls are right, we’re sure the Republican-led Congress will try to find a way.