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Joint Chiefs Chair Backs End To Military Gay Ban

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel.

The nations top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, told senators today that he supports overturning the law that bars gays from serving openly in the ranks.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.

SIEGEL: This is the first time a senior active duty officer has called for ending whats known as dont ask, dont tell. Thats the law which has forced thousands of gay service members from the ranks since it was enacted in 1993.

NPRs Tom Bowman reports.

TOM BOWMAN: Admiral Mullen says he served with homosexuals since 1968, the year he graduated from the Naval Academy. He says hes bothered they cant be honest about who they are.

Adm. MULLEN: No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.

BOWMAN: Sitting next to Mullen during todays Senate hearing was Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He didnt offer his personal views but Gates did note President Obama wants to overturn the law.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): We have received our orders from the Commander in Chief, and we are moving out accordingly.

BOWMAN: So Gates says the Pentagon will begin a yearlong study to determine how it would move out should Congress repeal the law. That includes polling soldiers.

Sec. GATES: Particularly as it pertains to what are the true views and attitudes of our troops and their families.

BOWMAN: And Gates made clear that doing away with dont ask, dont tell could require fundamental changes in how the military works.

Sec. GATES: These include potential revisions to policies on benefits, base housing, fraternization and misconduct, separations and discharges, and many others.

BOWMAN: Gates says the review would get input from experts - think tanks and members of Congress. It didnt take long for Senator John McCain to offer his input.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Im deeply disappointed in your statement, Secretary Gates.

BOWMAN: McCain says Gates doesnt know yet what his study will show.

Sen. MCCAIN: It would be far more appropriate, I say with great respect, to determine whether repeal of this law is appropriate and what effects it would have on the readiness and effectiveness of the military before deciding on whether we should repeal the law or not.

BOWMAN: McCain said dont ask, dont tell has worked, and more than 1,000 retired military officers have signed a letter supporting it. McCain asked Mullen whether his fellow admirals and generals support repeal.

Sen. MCCAIN: What, in your view, are the opinions of the other members of the Joint Chief and combatant commanders about changing this policy?

Adm. MULLEN: I would certainly defer to them in terms of exactly

Sen. MCCAIN: In the near future, I would like you to ask them and we can have it on the record what their position is, in the near future.

Adm. MULLEN: Yes, sir.

BOWMAN: But not all the Joint Chiefs are on board with repealing dont ask, dont tell, Defense sources say. One particular hold out is the Marine commandant, General James Conway, who worries that allowing gays to serve openly would be disruptive to the military in a time of war. Much of the focus today was on Mullens statement in support of repeal of dont ask, dont tell. Here Senator Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado.

Senator MARK UDALL (Democrat, Colorado): Admiral Mullen, I think the centerpiece of your statement will be long remembered for the courage and the integrity and the - with which you outlined your own personal beliefs and how we can proceed.

BOWMAN: The Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama suggested Mullen was out of line. It was all up to Congress to repeal the law, not the military.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): You shouldnt use your power to in anyway influence a discussion or evaluation of the issue.

BOWMAN: Whether Congress repeals a law is far from certain - a House bill lacks enough votes, the Senate had not even introduced a bill. So, in the meantime, Defense Secretary Gates says the Pentagon will make it harder to kick out someone who is gay. He says the military will raise the bar in what information is needed to launch an investigation.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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