An extensive report released by the Pentagon today shows that repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on openly gay and lesbian military members poses a low risk to the overall effectiveness of the armed forces.
The report includes a survey of service members, interviews with gay members affected by "don't ask, don't tell" and an implementation plan to mitigate risks if the ban is repealed.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that a "strong majority" of about two-thirds of service members do not oppose a repeal.
Only 30 percent of service members surveyed thought a repeal would have negative effects on the military, according to the report.
The number of service members concerned about a repeal were higher among soldiers in male-dominated combat specialty units like the Marines, with about 40 to 60 percent saying they predicted some degree of negative impact if the ban were repealed.
The report states, however, that of the 69 percent of service members who say they have knowingly worked with a gay or lesbian person, 92 percent stated that their unit’s "ability to work together" was "very good," "good" or "neither good nor poor."
Gates said there is also a higher level of concern among high-ranking officers who are resistant to change, but the military can overcome such obstacles if given enough time to prepare for the policy shift.
Gates echoed the White House in calling on Congress to repeal the ban and give the military time to mitigate short-term risks.
Gates said that if Congress doesn't act, it's only a matter of time before a federal court overturns the ban, which would be "dangerous and hazardous" to military readiness.
In September, a federal judge in California ruled "don't ask, don't tell" unconstitutional, then put a stay on the ban that briefly halted enforcement of the Clinton-era policy. The Obama administration appealed the ruling and the stay was lifted, a decision later affirmed by the Supreme Court.
The House approved legislation that would repeal "don't ask, don't tell" earlier this year, but in September, Republicans blocked a repeal attempt in the Senate.
"Those that choose not to act legislatively are rolling the dice that this policy will not be abruptly overturned by the courts," said Gates, who went on to say that his "greatest fear" is a court ruling that would force the military to change its policy overnight.
"The one path we know gives us the time to do this is the legislative path," Gates said.
A repeal still faces tough opposition from Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, who recently spoke out against a repeal.
Gates said the new report shows that McCain is mistaken.
He also said that existing military rules and laws regarding issues like sexual conduct, fraternizing and marriage benefits can be applied to both heterosexual and homosexual military members alike, but the military will need time for leadership training and other initiatives to implement the change in policy.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, said that repealing "don't ask, don't tell" will not come without challenges, but the military's implementation plan would mitigate potential risks.
Gates and Mullen could not say how long their implementation plan would take, so did not suggest a hard deadline for ending enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell."