09/20/2012 10:49 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Who Said What About DADT Repeal, and What Are They Saying Now?

Last year I released a report documenting 60 claims that anti-gay voices made about problems that would result if DADT were to end. The report was designed as a "provisional framework" for evaluating the policy change, and as an invitation to these conservatives, who generally profess to care deeply about taking responsibility for one's actions, to hold themselves accountable for their predictions when facts ultimately emerged about the reality -- instead of the fantasy -- of openly gay service. I announced that, this year, I would co-author a major study to assess the outcome of the policy change, a study that could be used to measure the validity of these anti-gay predictions.

That study, co-authored by faculty from West Point, the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy, and the Marine Corps War College, was released last week. It found that repeal "has had no negative impact on overall military readiness or its component parts: unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale."

Today, on the one-year anniversary of repeal, it is crucial to look back at who said what about DADT repeal, and how it stacks up against empirical reality. After all, if prominent voices can impugn the lives and contributions of LGBT servicemembers without accountability, it creates a safe space for anti-gay voices to continue to abuse research to oppose same-sex marriage, LGBT parenting, and other forms of equality, including the unfinished work in the military of achieving equality for same-sex couples and transgender troops.

I've called these predictions of doom and gloom in the military "anti-gay." Am I being sloppy or needlessly harsh? Couldn't people have made good-faith predictions about the impact of openly gay service without necessarily being anti-gay?

They could have. And in my study of this issue over the years, I've certainly known some. But research shows that people with emotional biases against a group are prone to exaggerate the threats posed by that group. We now know that's just what's happening here. At a certain point, which I'd say we reached on DADT five to 10 years ago, enough data points emerge, a tipping point that's not just trend-based but information-based, that it becomes impossible to deny the obvious -- if you're being rational.

The longstanding pattern of claiming that LGBT equality will disrupt our major institutions and even weaken our civilization is what I've called the "great disruption theory." It's the argument people used for decades to oppose equal treatment for black, female, and LGBT Americans, both in and out of uniform. And it's still being used to block gay people from access to marriage, to maintain restrictions on transgender military service, and to oppose equal treatment for a whole host of others, including, most notably, immigrants.

That's why it's critical to pause, as we celebrate the progress of this milestone, to also absorb the historical lesson provided by the empirical finding that equality for gay people doesn't wreak havoc on our country. Opponents of equality will always claim it disrupts society, but the claim is a ruse meant to maintain a social hierarchy with no rational justification.

True courage -- the kind shown by our troops on the front lines -- now requires the naysayers to acknowledge their wayward path, and for those who continue to falsely insist that equality is harmful to society (rather than just a threat to their own status) to cease and desist. Where are their voices now?

To compare the predictions of harm against the reality found in our study, see my initial report here and the recent study here.

Below is a brief summary of both the most dire predictions and the recent findings.

Predictions of Harm (Excerpts):

  • "[Lifting the ban] may even prove decisive to the viability of the all-volunteer force. That viability may, in turn, determine our ability to avoid in the years ahead -- as we have for the past four decades -- a return to conscription to meet our requirements for warriors in those conflicts" (Frank Gaffney, Jr., Center for Security Policy, 2011).
  • "I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage, and we could possibly and probably -- as the commandant of the Marine Corps said and I've been told by literally thousands of members of the military -- harm the battle effectiveness, which is so vital to the support, to the survival of our young men and women in the military" (Sen. John McCain, 2010).
  • "[Surveys suggest that if the ban is lifted, a minimum of] 24,000 current members of the armed forces might be lost over and above normal discharge attrition in a one-to-three year period... Because these personnel would be completing one or more terms of service, they would, in fact, represent a hemorrhage of mature, skilled losses from the professional ranks. This is an enormous risk to the viability of our armed forces" (General Carl Mundy, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, 2010, in a letter addressing Congress).
  • "When your life hangs on the line, you don't want anything distracting... Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines' lives" (General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, 2010, discussing his reasons for opposing openly gay service).
  • "Assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level" (General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, 2010, discussing his reasons for opposing openly gay service).
  • "If the law is overturned and open homosexuals are welcomed into the military, the number of homosexuals in the armed forces can only increase -- leading to a corresponding increase in same-sex sexual assaults" (Peter Sprigg, Family Research Council, 2010).
  • "We believe that imposing this burden on our men and women in uniform would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force" ("Flag & General Officers for the Military," a statement of over 1,000 generals and admirals, conceived by Elaine Donnelly, Center for Military Readiness, 2009).

Summary of Findings of "One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal's Impact on Military Readiness," September 2012:

  • The repeal of DADT has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment, or morale.
  • Recruitment and retention were unaffected by the repeal of DADT. Survey data show that troops were just as likely to say that they would remain in the military after repeal as they were before, and according to Pentagon figures, the military has successfully met its recruitment and retention targets in the wake of DADT repeal.
  • There was no mass exodus of military members as a result of repeal, and there were only two verifiable resignations linked to the policy change, both military chaplains.
  • DADT repeal has not been responsible for any new wave of violence or physical abuse among servicemembers.
  • Although repeal produced a decline in individual morale for some servicemembers and boosted it for others, service-wide data indicate that overall, force morale did not decrease as a result of the new policy.
  • On balance, DADT repeal has enhanced the military's ability to pursue its mission: Greater openness and honesty resulting from repeal seem to have promoted increased understanding, respect, and acceptance, and the policy change appears to have enabled some LGB service members to resolve disputes around harassment and bias in ways that were not possible prior to repeal.
  • The findings of this study are consistent with the extensive literature on foreign militaries, which shows uniformly that readiness did not decline after foreign armed forces allowed LGB troops to serve openly.