Pentagon: Number of gay servicemembers won't be tracked inside military
Special to Stars and Stripes
Department of Defense actuaries can tell you that half of all service members are married. They know that 14 percent of enlisted are women and 11.6 percent are Hispanic. They even know that 20.2 percent of members are Roman Catholic and less than one percent are Jewish. But, they will caution, 19.5 percent claim no religious preference or decline to identify one.
What DoD actuaries won’t be able to tell you — because they won’t know — is how many homosexuals serve in the military. Sexual orientation is to be “a personal and private matter” under new DoD policy guidelines set to prepare for repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
Even attempting to collect such data will be banned.
“DoD components, including the services, are not authorized to request, collect or maintain information about the sexual orientation of service members except when it is an essential part of an otherwise appropriate investigation or other official action,” says DADT Repeal Policy Guidance from Clifford L. Stanley, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
The data collection ban is part of a rules packet that emphasizes privacy. The objective, Stanley explained, is to treat all members “with dignity and respect and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline.”
Stanley and Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, gave a progress report on implementation efforts at a Pentagon press conference last Friday. Repeal, Stanley said, is expected to occur sometime later this year though there is no “artificial” target date.
The policy papers confirm that many benefit questions surrounding gay service members, such as whether partners will qualify for military health care or whether married gay members will get the higher “with dependents” housing allowance are settled by the Defense of Marriage Act. That law prohibits extension of many federal benefits to same-sex couples including housing allowances, health care and travel reimbursements.
But gay service members will be able to designate partners as beneficiaries for some programs including possibly the Service Member’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI), the federal Thrift Savings Plan, military survivor benefits and the lump sum death gratuity.
Stanley and Cartwright confirmed that repeal is being implemented as quickly as possible and in three phases: writing DoD policies and final service regulations; preparing training materials and the training of chaplains, counselors and commanders, and finally the training of service members.
All members are to be tutored on how the law allows homosexuals to serve openly and on how all ranks are to accept this without discrimination or harassment. The idea behind the training is that if service members are to be held accountable for adhering to standards of behavior regarding gay members, then they should be briefed on the same.
But service leaders do not expect that ever member will get training before the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs can certify to Congress, as the law requires, that the force is ready and repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can occur in 60 more days without impacting readiness.
Cartwright said the feeling among all the service chiefs is that “moving along expeditiously is better than dragging it out. We've learned that from other services [and] other nations that have moved down this path.”
The policy memo Stanley signed Jan. 28 notes that sexual orientation “will not be considered along with race, color, religion, sex and national origin as a class under the Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) program and therefore will not be dealt with through the MEO complaint process.”
This, like so many policy decisions on DADT repeal, adheres to recommendations from the comprehensive review conducted last year by DoD General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson and Army General Carter F. Ham.
Johnson and Ham felt that gays would be accepted more readily in the military community if there were no sense they had been “elevated to a special status as a ‘protected class’ and will receive special treatment.”
Sexual orientation, they said, shouldn’t be a factor in recruiting, promotion or any personnel decision-making. Advancement or selection boards won’t be told to meet gay quotas, for example. Complaints “of discrimination, harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation can be dealt with through existing mechanisms,” primarily the chain of command.”
The aim, said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale University Law School, is to treat sexual orientation no differently than if a member were, say, left-handed.
“They are not going to get out in front of Congress on what’s required. That’s clear,” Fidell said. “They will do what has to be done in terms of what I’ll call ‘first order [effects]’ of repeal. It’s not that the spirit isn’t willing” to do more to accommodate gay members. “But they are proceeding at a measured pace.”
The policy guidance prohibits the services from creating separate quarters or bathroom facilities for gay members, or otherwise segregating them. But commanders, the guidance explains, “will continue to maintain the discretion to alter berthing or billeting assignments in accordance with service policy in the interest of maintaining morale, good order and discipline, and consistent with performance of the mission.”
That’s the “wild card” in the policy, Fidell said. “I think it’s in keeping with their sense that they may not be able to see around every corner here. I think that’s smart. Could it be used to blow a hole in the program? Yeah. Do I think that’s going to happen? No.”
Commands that exercise that wild-card authority on billeting, “without a good basis for it,” Fidell said, will “take some heat. Somebody will make a phone call and, before you know it, someone would look into it.”
But Fidell added, “We know the varieties of conduct and misconduct in the military are infinite, just as they are in civilian community.” So at this point, deciding “not to turn these rules into a straight jacket is sound.”
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