- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

NEW YORK

More than 1,000 retired military officers, including several who were top commanders, are urging President Obama and Congress to maintain the law that bars gays from serving openly in the armed forces.

Mr. Obama is consulting with the Pentagon on the issue and says he supports eventual repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits gays in the military from being open about their sexual orientation. A bill that would allow gays to serve without closeting their sexuality has been introduced in Congress.

A statement issued Tuesday by the retired officers says passage of that bill “would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force.”

Among the signatories were Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr., a former commandant of the Marine Corps; Adm. Leighton W. Smith Jr., a former commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe; Gen. Charles A. Horner, who commanded U.S. aerial forces during the 1990-91 Gulf War; and Adm. Jerome L. Johnson, a former vice chief of naval operations.

The retired officers said they strongly support the principle that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service” and warned that repeal of the current law could jeopardize morale and “unit cohesion.”

Gen. Mundy said in a telephone interview that he thought a “large segment” of currently serving officers shared the views expressed in the statement.

“We just see a great many downsides to attempting to enforce on the military something I don’t know is widely accepted in American society,” he said.

The statement was criticized by Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group seeking equal treatment of gays in the military.

“The signers of this petition are mired in the fears and politics of the past,” Mr. Sarvis said. “More than 75 percent of the American public, including most younger service members as well as many active-duty flag officers, realize the question is not if ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is repealed, but when and how.”

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates indicated that executive-branch action on “don’t ask, don’t tell” was not imminent because he and Mr. Obama have “a lot on our plates right now.”

“Let’s push that one down the road a little bit,” Mr. Gates said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Sarvis, who criticized Mr. Gates’ remarks, urged Mr. Obama to press for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” as part of the upcoming Defense Department budget process.

“The most important factor in lifting a gay ban is a clear signal from senior leadership,” said Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California at Santa Barbara that studies issues involving gays and the military.

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