- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2011

Republican presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich is siding with social conservatives on how the U.S. armed forces should treat gays and women, according to a survey released Monday.

Mr. Gingrich, who is leading in the polls for the GOP presidential nomination, told the Military Culture Coalition he would have voted against allowing open homosexuals in the military and, as president, would favor an extensive review for repeal of the gay ban known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

The former House speaker also does not favor women in direct ground combat units. And he supports the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

The Pentagon is citing that law to deny benefits to the partners of gay service members.

Mitt Romney, Mr. Gingrich’s closest competitor in the polls, did not respond to the group’s survey, according to Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness.

The center is one of 15 social conservative organizations that make up the Military Culture Coalition. Others include Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, the American Conservative Union and the Center for Security Policy, run by Frank Gaffney.

Mrs. Donnelly said Mr. Gingrich’s campaign responded to the survey Friday. He had not answered when the survey was first released Tuesday.

“The responses of Speaker Gingrich are a welcome addition to this ongoing educational project,” she said. “The issues on this survey will be of interest to many undecided voters, especially in Iowa.”

Zeke Stokes, spokesman for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which led the repeal drive, criticized the Gingrich response: “Mr. Gingrich is out of step with the vast majority of Americans, as well as our nation’s senior military leaders, who have said that repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is proceeding smoothly and without controversy.”

The survey has the potential to help Mr. Gingrich’s standing on the political right, although neither the gay ban repeal nor women in combat has been a leading issue in the race.

Mr. Gingrich was a member of the House, but not yet the speaker, in 1993 when President Clinton signed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allowed gays to serve as long as they kept their sexuality private.

In the MCC survey, Mr. Gingrich said he would have voted against repeal by the lame-duck Congress in 2010.

The Pentagon says repeal is working well in its third month and credits the extensive non-discrimination training that preceded the Sept. 20 effective date.

On other survey questions, Mr. Gingrich said he supported the federal marriage law, which Mr. Clinton also signed. Mr. Gingrich said he would not impose penalties on service members who spoke out against the gay ban repeal.

He would also oppose military gay pride events. He would not allow transgender people, such as cross-dressers or transsexuals to serve.

The gay rights movement is pushing the Obama administration to allow transgender people to serve as well as gays.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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