More Americans say 'don't ask, don't tell' for gays should be repealed

Repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the US military now seems more likely. A new poll shows a solid majority of Americans say 'don't ask, don't tell' is discriminatory. Those in uniform are more likely to favor keeping the law, but that's changing too.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Gay rights activist Lt. Dan Choi, attends a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington Feb. 2 related to the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. Choi, who is a West Point alumni, is a member of the New York National Guard.

A small majority of Americans say Congress should repeal the law barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. But a much higher majority – 66 percent – agrees that the law is a form of discrimination, according to a new poll.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this month found that 57 percent of Americans believe the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that bars homosexuals from serving openly in the military should be repealed. Another 36 percent of Americans say it should not be repealed. Yet 66 percent of the 2,617 registered voters polled agree that not allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military is a form of discrimination; 31 percent say it is not.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points, was released Wednesday.

“By a solid margin, American voters say go ahead and allow gays to openly serve in the military,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.

Pentagon considers impact of repeal

The poll comes as the Pentagon contemplates repeal of the law, implemented in 1993.

President Obama has said he wants to remove the ban. But the first step in that direction didn’t occur until last week when Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced the creation of a task force to look at how the ban would be lifted.

Within the next 45 days, the task force will report preliminary findings with an eye to how to halt the discharge of service members who are outed by a third party. Mr. Gates has made it clear that it could take a year or so to change “don’t ask, don’t tell” – assuming Congress repeals the law. Mullen stunned many when he told a Senate panel that repeal was “the right thing to do.”

Change inevitable?

Military officials at the Pentagon have begun to see the inevitability of change, even if it remains unclear what that change would look like or how it would be implemented.

Many top leaders are more amenable to changing the law, a reflection of the change in society since the law went into effect in 1993. With some exceptions, junior troops are much more likely to shrug at any change that could occur, military officials say anecdotally.

A poll in Military Times suggests that while opposition to repeal remains among service members, the level of opposition is dropping.

Changing attitudes in the military

In the latest poll taken by Military Times, part of an independent newspaper chain owned by Gannett, the percentage of active-duty respondents who oppose repeal dropped from 63 percent in 2003 to 51 percent today, according to the survey, conducted between Nov. 11 and Nov. 30. Likewise, the number of active-duty respondents who favor repeal of the law grew from 24 percent in 2003 to 30 percent today.

The Military Times poll is not scientific; the newspaper e-mailed invitations to 45,000 subscribers and randomly inserted fliers in about 40,000 newsstand copies of the paper asking for readers to respond. About 8,200 readers, including National Guard, Reserve, and other readers, responded to the survey. Of those, the paper gleaned responses from about 3,000 active-duty military readers.


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