Group claims repealing gay ban could hinder military readiness

Repealing the nearly 20-year-old policy banning openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces would adversely affect the military's performance during wartime, according to some interest groups at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon's top brass voiced support for a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and President Obama also has said publicly that he supports overturning the Clinton-era policy. But the Center for Military Readiness, a right-leaning public policy organization, released its analysis on Thursday during the annual gathering of conservatives this week, arguing that such a move would not improve military readiness.

According to the center's policy review, putting uniformed personnel in military conditions of close quarters and "forced intimacy" with homosexuals would create misconduct and tension. Citing the threat that "zero tolerance of dissent" would lead to promotions based on "political-correctness" rather than merit, the report asserted that a policy change would hurt retention rates and unit cohesion.

Elaine Donnelly, the center's president, criticized the open inclusion of gays and lesbians in the military as "social engineering," echoing the words used by prominent veterans' groups, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, earlier this month when they voiced opposition to Obama's proposal to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has appointed a task force to study how the military would implement a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars gays from serving in the military. And during congressional testimony in early February, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said allowing gays to serve openly in the military was the "right thing to do."

The Government Accountability Office has reported that the cost of discharging and replacing service members who were discharged because of their sexual orientation during the policy's first 10 years was at least $190 million, though an independent University of California Blue Ribbon Commission estimated that figure was much higher.

Veterans are divided over the issue. Shortly after Obama was elected, more than 100 retired military leaders signed a statement supporting a change in the law.

A new poll released on Thursday by the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress shows that a majority of American voters are in favor of allowing gays to serve openly in the military: 54 percent of those surveyed support repealing "don't ask, don't tell," while 35 percent are opposed to overturning the ban.

Tony Perkins, president of the Christian organization Family Research Council, said at the conference that the poll reflected the public's lack of understanding on the realities of military life. Also on Thursday during CPAC, Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said she supports a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" as does her father. Cheney's sister, Mary, is a lesbian.

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