After the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in September 2011, advocates on both sides of the debate predicted far-reaching changes in the lives of service members. But according to a new poll conducted by the Military Times, the landmark policy change has resulted in far less upheaval than expected.
The poll, released on Monday, surveyed 25 gay, lesbian and bisexual service members. Despite their newfound freedom to serve openly, however, almost none have chosen to officially come out to fellow soldiers.
"Only one [soldier] had come out of the closet at work since repeal," Military Times reported. "The rest either said their unit members knew about their orientation before repeal, or they continue to keep their orientation private."
The poll did not report on the reasons why service members have declined to reveal their sexuality. While some gay members of the military have expressed fears about coming out to co-workers due to potential backlash, only one of the soldiers interviewed by the Military Times for the story said he was concerned about how some soldiers might treat them.
James, a sergeant major in the Army, said while he thought most of his soldiers would react positively he began serving openly, he also "fears being openly gay could make working with others needlessly difficult."
But James, who has a partner of 30 years but lives in a state where same-sex marriage is still illegal, also reported that his inability to get married was a concern. "I want the whole enchilada. I want to be the same as every other soldier," he told the Military Times.
That concern over family issues was echoed by another soldier. Jenny, an Army captain with a long-term partner and child, said that the potential stress on her home life was a major factor in staying closeted. "It’s best that people not know, because when they do, you open yourself up to all sorts of scrutiny of your family and what your definition of family is. We have a child to raise," she told the Military Times.
Such responses suggest that the Defense of Marriage Act may play a major role in keeping service members in the closet. While the repeal of DADT gave gay and lesbian soldiers the ability to come out, they are still barred from receiving benefits like housing allowances or medical care that are afforded to heterosexual couples.
The disparity has come a major for gay rights advocates, who filed at least two lawsuits to overturn DOMA in 2011. The Obama administration has also said it will no longer defend the law against legal challenges.
For their part, straight service members told the Military Times that the repeal had passed with little change in their lives as well. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents said they had not been affected in any way, including 59 percent of those serving in a unit where a co-worker had come out.
View survey results from Military Times: