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Survey: DADT repeal has less impact than expected

Mar. 12, 2012 - 07:35AM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 12, 2012 - 07:35AM  |  
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With "don't ask, don't tell" now off the books, Jenny thinks it's time for a divorce.

When she was an enlisted soldier, Jenny, who asked that her real name not be used, married a gay man to hide her previous seven-year lesbian relationship with another soldier, with whom she is still raising a child.

"A lot of things have changed," she said. "So, obviously, there are some things that I need to do in my personal life to take care of that."

But that doesn't include formally coming out to her unit — although Jenny, now a captain, said most of the people she works with have already guessed that she's a lesbian from how she dresses and wears her hair.

She also has no plans to tell anyone about her family. She said that would raise too many questions about her and her former partner.

"At one point, we were in the same unit and people thought we hated each other," she said. "It's [one of] the things that we've been doing and the hoops that we've been jumping through all these years just to have a stable environment for our child. 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."

Prior to the repeal of DADT, advocates on both sides of the debate about open service by gays put high stakes on the outcome.

The Center for Military Readiness warned of "harmful consequences" in the week after top Pentagon officials certified that the military was ready for repeal, as required by Congress.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, in contrast, said repeal was "a significant step toward equality for all who want to serve their country in uniform," one that would no longer force gay, lesbian and bisexual service members to "hide a part of themselves."

But neither prediction is being realized, based on responses to the 2012 Military Times Poll from the 25 active-duty service members who indicated that they are gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Only one had come out of the closet at work since repeal; the rest either said their unit members knew about their orientation before repeal, or they continue to keep their orientation private.

The impact among heterosexual service members is also less significant than expected.

In the 2011 Military Times Poll, 59 percent of active-duty respondents said they did not believe they would be affected by the repeal. When service members were asked this year how they were affected after the repeal, 69 percent said they had felt no impact.

Although units where someone disclosed they are gay, lesbian or bisexual after repeal felt more of a change, 59 percent still said the repeal had no noticeable effect.

In addition, although 10 percent of 2011 respondents said they would be less likely to remain in military housing after DADT repeal, just 2 percent said this year that they moved.

Respondents were more likely to say someone's disclosure of gay or lesbian orientation had a negative effect on their unit than a positive effect, but more than three times as many respondents said it simply didn't matter.

Elaine Donnelly, head of the Center for Military Readiness, an organization that strongly opposes allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve in the military, said it's still too soon to assess the full impact of repeal.

"No one predicted anything would happen immediately, so that prediction is true," she said. "I've heard from military people who have no way of registering what they feel about this. They're just quietly leaving, but they're not leaving right away. No one predicted that they would."

She noted that once the 2012 presidential election is past, the Obama administration could launch efforts to overturn laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents same-sex couples from receiving federal marriage benefits, including those commonly available to military spouses.

That would be just fine with James (also not his real name), a gay Army sergeant major who has kept his orientation and his partner under wraps for 30 years.

He currently lives in a state where same-sex marriages are not recognized, and he's not interested in a civil union that falls short of marriage.

"I want the whole enchilada," he said. "I want to be the same as every other soldier."

But in the meantime, he said he has no plans to become more open about his orientation. Although he believes many of his colleagues would be accepting, he fears being openly gay could make working with others needlessly difficult.

Still, he said he has already benefited from repeal.

"It was definitely a weight lifted off of my shoulders," he said. "I feel like I have given as much as any other soldier, and I feel that I deserve to be treated just the same as any other soldier."

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