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What Does the Next Marine Commandant Believe About ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’?

Check out this bit of inside baseball in this excellent Greg Jaffe piece about gay servicemembers waiting patiently for a final and to-be-determined end to the military’s ban on open gay service:

Even President Obama, set to name a new Marine Corps commandant in the coming weeks, is likely to face significant pressure to select someone who is not too outspoken in his opposition to repealing the law. All of the candidates being considered for the job have expressed reservations about repeal during wartime, according to senior U.S. officials familiar with the process.

Gen. James Conway, the outgoing commandant, was the only service chief to actually oppose ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that the working group Defense Secretary Robert Gates convened to guide the implementing of the repeal of the 17-year-old ban on open gay service will report to Gates in December, after Conway has retired. At the same time, if the next commandant shares Conway’s perspective, then speculation about those two schedules is, at best, academic. We’ll find out when the confirmation hearing for the Conway’s successor gets underway, whoever that successor may be.

All this should underscore that ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is easy — but integrating open gays into the military is a generation-long challenge. Anecdotal information, backed by the general polling trends in the country at large, indicates that junior and mid-career officers are significantly more comfortable with open gay service than the current crop of flag officers. Jaffe’s story illustrates that some challenges for integration — sure to be addressed by Gates’ working group — are the provision of partner benefits to married or partnered gay couples and the freedom of chaplain officers to preach that homosexuality is immoral. Not to fall victim to the complacency of belief in inexorability, but it’s hard to imagine circumstances under which those concerns don’t grow weaker with age. But that still leaves years’ worth of struggles for the military to figure out how to equitably recognize the gay servicemembers it has always had in its ranks.

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