WASHINGTON — The leaders of a new Pentagon study promised Congress on Wednesday an honest assessment on whether allowing gays to serve openly might cause troops to lose their edge in battle.
"Military readiness and effectiveness must retain primacy here," said Gen. Carter Ham, head of U.S. Army Forces Europe and a co-leader of the study.
"That is what you expect of us, that's what the nation expects of us," Ham told a House panel.
Wednesday's hearing was the opening salvo in a yearlong debate at the Pentagon and in Congress on whether and how the nation should repeal the 17-year-old law that bans service members from acknowledging they are gay or engaging in homosexual behavior.
Democrats praised the initiative but said they won't wait for the results, which are due Dec. 1. More than a dozen senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that would repeal the law and prohibit discrimination against service members on the basis of sexual orientation.
"They're ready for it and we're ready for it," said Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
Rep. Susan Davis, one of 189 cosponsors of House legislation to repeal the ban, said she is confident the Pentagon review will conclude that changes to the law are necessary.
"I would ask those who oppose repeal to join us on the right side of history," said Davis, who chairs the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee.
President Barack Obama has vowed to end the policy, but needs Congress' blessing and faces resistance from some influential military leaders who say a repeal could hurt morale and impact a unit's effectiveness.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that changes to the policy are probably inevitable and that the military should chart a way forward that minimizes the impact on troops.
Last month, Gates called for a sweeping internal study to be led by Ham and Pentagon General Legal Counsel Jeh Johnson.
Johnson and Ham said they planned to reach out to solicit opinions.
"We're asked working group members to set aside their personal opinions regarding repeal or not repeal and to go about their work in an objective comprehensive fashion," Johnson said.
Johnson said he expects that the review will consider all aspects of the military legal code related to "don't ask, don't tell," including rules on sodomy and oral sex.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits sodomy and oral sex, even among consenting adults and married couples.
On the Net:
Gates' statement on the policy: http://tinyurl.com/yc8ekld