Likely voters support 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
WASHINGTON (BP)--Nearly 50 percent of likely voters back the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on open homosexual military service, according to a new poll that conflicts with other surveys showing far lower support.
The poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted July 14-18 by The Polling Company/WomanTrend for the Center for Military Readiness and the Military Culture Coalition, a group of organizations that support the current policy prohibiting open service by homosexuals. The poll used live callers and was not automated.
The survey found that by a margin of 48-45 percent, likely voters prefer maintaining the policy. Congress is considering overturning the law, passed in 1993.
"I think these findings just blow away the idea that 75 percent of the American people support repeal of this law," Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said in a conference call with reporters. "There's a 30-point difference between that level and what we have found with this very carefully constructed and conducted poll of likely voters."
A CNN/Opinion Research Poll from May showed that 78 percent of adults supported allowing "people who are openly gay or homosexual" to "serve in the U.S. military." But that poll was of all adults; the latest poll is of likely voters. Other polls with similarly worded questions have found comparable results.
"Those questions are not biased, but I do believe they are incomplete," Kellyanne Conway, president of the Polling Company/WomanTrend, said during the conference call.
Other polls are incomplete, she said, because they do not give respondents an option of keeping the current law. The Polling Company's poll asked: "Would you prefer that your elected representatives in Washington, D.C. vote to overturn the 1993 law and allow homosexual persons to serve openly in the military, or vote to keep the law as it is?"
Republicans preferred keeping the current law, 67-26 percent, as did independents, 47-44 percent. Democrats favored overturning it, 65-29 percent. Most of the likely voter models in recent months have shown Republicans as more likely to vote during the general election.
The poll had other significant findings. By a margin of 49-41 percent, likely voters oppose legislation that would "allow abortions in military medical facilities in the United States and overseas." The defense authorization bill currently before the Senate has an amendment that would permit such abortions.
The poll also found that 52 percent of likely voters agreed that even if the military's policy on homosexual service is overturned, the "military should not attempt to change personal attitudes and feelings toward human sexuality. Imposing career penalties on anyone who disagrees would discriminate against military personnel and chaplains who do not support homosexuality." Thirty-seven percent of likely voters disagreed, believing "the military should attempt to change personal attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality and impose 'zero tolerance' career penalties on anyone who disagrees for any reason, including religious convictions."
Daniel Blomberg, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said he was encouraged by the poll's results.
"The majority of Americans really have a high level of respect for the religious liberty rights of our chaplains and of our service members," Blomberg said. "... No American, and especially those serving our Armed Forces, should be forced to give up their religious freedoms -- their constitutional rights -- just to advance a political agenda."
Retired Army Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis said reversing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy will have a negative impact on the military.
"There's nothing different about the military than it was in 1993," Maginnis said. "... Open homosexuality would damage unit effectiveness. It would create an unacceptable recruiting problem.... It would undermine long-term retention.... It would create a morale problem, primarily due to privacy violations and concerns."
Benjamin Ratcliff, who is retired from the U.S. Army, said earlier this year that privacy issues should be examined.
"The military lives in close quarters. Whenever you get a group ... who are deployed, privacy goes out of the window. There are a lot of physical issues," he said.
In April more than 40 retired military chaplains sent a letter to President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates warning that the careers of many if not most military chaplains will end if Don't Ask, Don't Tell is overturned. The letter warned that reversing the policy will negatively impact religious freedom and could even affect military readiness and troop levels because the military would be marginalizing "deeply held" religious beliefs.
Military chaplains, the retired chaplains said, "are integral to maintaining high morale."
"Marginalizing a large group of chaplains, then, will unavoidably harm readiness by diminishing morale," the letter said. "Similarly, making orthodox Christians -- both chaplains and servicemen -- into second-class Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Marines whose sincerely held religious beliefs are comparable to racism cannot help recruitment or retention."
Keith Travis, team leader of the chaplaincy evangelism team at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, signed the letter. A former chaplain in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserves, he said the chaplaincy "as we know it today hangs in the balance."
"It's a critical juncture at this point for ministry and chaplaincy," Travis told Baptist Press. "There are secondary and tertiary effects if this policy is overturned that will take place that people are not thinking about and they don't even see at this point."
Travis added, "It could limit our chaplains on what they could preach. Can they even preach about sin? Can homosexuality be called sin?"
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Read more about the poll at http://bit.ly/a6jnPM.