In the fierce debate that led up to President Barack Obama's repeal last September of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the 1993 law that banned gay and lesbian service members from serving openly in the military, supporters of the law warned that a repeal would have disastrous consequences for the armed forces. One letter, signed by more than 1,000 military officers, claimed that a repeal would undermine recruiting efforts, negatively affect "troop readiness" and "eventually break the All-Volunteer Force."
One year later, the first academic study of the military's new open-service policy has found there have been no negative consequences whatsoever.
The study, published Monday by the Palm Center, a research branch of the Williams Institute at University of California Los Angeles Law School, found that there has been no overall negative impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, recruitment, retention or morale.
The authors of the study, who included professors at U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Marine Corps War College, arrived at this conclusion after soliciting the views of 553 generals and admirals who predicted that repeal would undermine the military, as well as conducting interviews with expert opponents of DADT repeal, a number of watchdog organizations and more than 60 active-duty heterosexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual troops from every service branch.
They also observed several military units and administered several surveys, analyzed relevant media articles published during the research period and conducted secondary source analysis of surveys independently administered by outside groups.
"For almost twenty years, experts predicted that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would harm the military," said Aaron Belkin, the founding director of the Palm Center and lead author of the study. "Now the evidence is in, and the conclusion is clear: repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' did not harm the military, and if anything made it easier for the Pentagon to pursue its mission."
The authors described their effort to collect data from opponents of DADT repeal as "vigorous" and predicted that it would "sustain confidence in the validity and impartiality of our findings."
One of the authors, Tammy Schultz, a gay professor of national security and joint warfare at U.S. Marine Corps Academy and a longtime advocate for repealing the ban, said she was relieved by the findings.
"I just have so much respect for members of the armed services and would never have wanted to hurt someone," Schultz told The Huffington Post. "The fact that we didn't find that, personally I felt relief that I was right, honestly."
In fact, Schultz said, the study showed that the repeal actually improved trust and cohesion among the troops.
One soldier told the authors that in the initial period after repeal, he continued to hear derogatory anti-gay language from some in his unit. "Yet when he confronted them and spoke about their behavior in terms of leadership and professionalism, their conduct improved," the study said.
“They don’t agree, but they were willing to be professional about it,” the soldier told the interviewers.
He added that "frank discussions, which are now far less risky because of repeal, helped disabuse them of preconceived notions about gay people and that ultimately, problems were 'completely resolved' through discussion of the fact that he was respected before he was out, and that nothing had changed by his acknowledgement of his sexual orientation."
Schultz partly attributes these findings to the discipline and professionalism of the Marines. "It really shows that so much of the military comes down to leadership and clear guidelines. That's what the Pentagon and service chiefs provided in the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' And that's one reason the implementation went so smoothly."
In recent weeks, Belkin and a handful of other gay-rights advocates have expressed concerns in interviews and blog posts that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, if elected, may reinstate Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In a recent interview with HuffPost, Belkin referenced two passages in the Republican Party's 2012 platform, finalized last month during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
In the first passage, the platform promises to "reject the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation." In the second, it states that Republicans will conduct an "objective and open-minded review of the current Administration’s management of military personnel policies and will correct problems with appropriate administrative, legal, or legislative action."
In a Republican debate on Fox News last September, Rick Santorum, one of Romney's primary opponents, fielded a YouTube question from an openly gay soldier in Iraq who wanted to know about Santorum's position on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "We would reinstitute that policy if Rick Santorum were president," Santorum said.
After the producers cut away from the shot of the soldier, several members of the studio audience could be heard booing at him.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register editorial board a few months later, Romney said, "I'm not planning on reversing" the repeal "at this stage.” A spokesperson for the Romney campaign told HuffPost Sunday he has not changed his position.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the survey relied on 553 interviews of high-ranking military officials; of the 553 solicited, the survey had only 13 respondents.