Conservative groups have begun to mobilize to stop President Obama plan’s to open the military to acknowledged gays, as some prominent right-leaning Washington figures are breaking with the movement and siding with the White House.
The Military Culture Coalition made its debut as an alliance Feb. 18 in a joint Washington news conference to announce a campaign to retain a 1993 law that bans open homosexuals in the ranks based on combat-readiness concerns.
“The 15 findings of fact in the 1993 law, emphasizing morale, unit cohesion and readiness remain valid today,” said Elaine Donnelly, who runs the Livonia, Mich.-based Center for Military Readiness. “Repeal and replacement with the proposed ‘LGBT Law’ for the military, implementing the agenda of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered groups who endorsed President Obama’s campaign, would make military life even more difficult and dangerous.”
The coalition includes conservative grass-roots organizations, such as Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Conservative Union and Concerned Women for America.
Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said these groups have no interest in the military and are involved in this debate merely because they don’t like homosexuals.
“I don’t think they’re really motivated by concern for unit cohesion and military readiness,” said Mr. Belkin, whose organization at the University of California at Santa Barbara has conducted studies promoting open gays in the military. “I think they’re motivated by moral concerns and a distaste for homosexuality. Most of those groups don’t make any bones about that.”
He also noted the coalition’s press release, saying it put the group at odds with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several of his predecessors who have made statements varyingly critical of the current policy.
“It was a little funny for me to see them put a rainbow-colored question mark over the Pentagon because it’s not our side that is questioning Chairman Mullen, Chairman [Colin L.] Powell, Chairman [John] Shalikashvili and Chairman [William] Crowe. So I really don’t think it’s about military readiness for these groups,” he said.
Adm. Mullen, the late Adm. Crowe, and Gen. Shalikashvili have voiced support for overturning the ban, while Gen. Powell has said he wants the law reviewed.
Conservatives have largely been silent on the issue of gays in the military since winning the battle in 1993, when they joined like-minded Democrats and Republicans to block President Clinton’s bid to remove outright the services’ ban on homosexuality. They took it one step further, writing into law a prohibition that merely had been a regulation; “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a compromise regulation on how to implement the ban.
This time around, conservatives do not seem as unified or enthused. Groups against the ban, such as the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, have kept a drumbeat of publicity casting the prohibition as unfair discrimination. The mainstream media generally support their goals. And public opinion polls have shown a growing majority supporting gays in the military.
The prospect of major social change for the all-volunteer force has not captured conservative talk radio, which is focused on Mr. Obama’s economic and health care agenda.
For example, Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel’s most-watched prime-time show, said Mr. Obama’s call for ending the ban this year is not an issue.
Influential conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer sided with Mr. Obama on Fox’s “Special Report” program in February.
“I think it is a good idea, and I think the administration’s approach, which is a gradual approach, is the right one, which is to study how to do it over a year and then to implement it over years,” he said. “The mores in the country have changed, certainly in the last 16 years, and certainly among the young. I think it’s a form of discrimination that’s sort of outlived itself.”