Americans support 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal, new poll finds

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, found that 54 percent of Americans polled say the 17-year-old 'don't ask, don't tell' law that forbids openly homosexual men and women from serving in the military should be reversed.

Michael Bonfigli / Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Democratic strategist and pollster Stan Greenberg, a guest at The Christian Science Monitor’s breakfast for reporters in Washington Wednesday.

A new poll from a Democratic pollster shows a solid majority of Americans support allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military
as the Pentagon prepares a study on how the law would be repealed.

About 54 percent of the American public believe the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that forbids homosexuals from serving openly should be repealed, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, in a poll released Wednesday. Another 35 percent do not think the law should be repealed, according to the poll.

The poll is one of many showing an electorate that is generally supportive of repealing the law, passed in 1993. President Obama has pledged to lift the ban on openly homosexual service members, and the nation’s top military officer last month declared that repeal is “the right thing to do.” Next month, the Pentagon will complete a preliminary assessment of how a repeal would work. Repealing the law will likely take a year or more, and the decision to do so lies in the hands of Congress.

“The country is in an impressive place,” said Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who heads the Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research firm. “There is no other issue that I’ve seen that is less polarizing – it’s so improbable.”

Mr. Greenberg, a guest at The Christian Science Monitor’s breakfast for reporters in Washington on Wednesday, said the issue helped defeat Democrats in the 1990s. “Attitudes have moved very substantially … from where they were in 1993.”

The poll is in step with a Quinnipiac University Poll released last week that found 57 percent of voters support repeal, while 36 percent oppose changing the law. The Center for American Progress’ poll also shows that 60 percent of Americans favor “skills over sexual orientation,” meaning Americans would rather see a military peopled with the right skills than keep out homosexuals in favor of those who don’t necessarily have the skills to match the mission. “Similar numbers say that they do not think gays and lesbians will harm unit cohesion or morale,” according to the poll.

Other findings:

• Among likely voters, 68 percent of Democrats, 55 percent of independents, and 41 percent of Republicans support repeal.
• 56 percent of voters in House of Representatives “battleground districts” support repeal, and 56 percent of voters in Senate battleground states support repeal.
• 63 percent of Americans would not change their opinion on repealing the law even if the military was opposed to allowing homosexuals to serve openly.

The military itself is less supportive of repeal, but recent polls show increasing support for it.

According to a poll conducted by Military Times, an independent chain of newspapers owned by Gannett, opposition is dropping. In 2003, 63 percent of active-duty service members opposed repeal. Today, 51 percent oppose lifting the ban. The poll is not scientific because it asks service members who are subscribers or newsstand readers of the paper to respond to the poll voluntarily. Readers of the paper are typically career-oriented and their views don’t necessarily reflect the views of the military as a whole.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is traveling in the Middle East this week. At three town hall-style meetings with troops, he was not asked about repealing the don’t ask, don’t tell law, despite his testimony last month. Many service members recognize that change is in the air. Mullen stopped at the US Embassy in Amman, where one soldier cited the service members who have had to leave the military because of their sexual orientation. About 13,000 troops have left the military since 1993, and far more may have left unofficially.

“We have lost good soldiers because of that, because they wanted to be who they are,” Army Staff Sgt. Peppur Alexander told McClatchy newspapers. “It’s sad.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.