WASHINGTON Ė A long-awaited Pentagon report released today concluded that overturning the militaryís "donít ask, donít tell" policy would do little long-term harm to morale or military effectiveness, dispelling chief arguments opponents have had with allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly.
The report's release shifts the focus on the issue to moderate members of the Senate, including Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who had said they wanted to read the report before voting on whether to end the policy.
The House has passed a bill overturning the policy, but a Republican-led threat of a filibuster halted a similar effort in the Senate in the fall.
There were few immediate clues today, though, about whether they would embrace the findings. "I havenít looked at it," Brown said early in the afternoon. "As soon as I get back to the office and get a free minute, Iíll start digesting it."
The study, conducted over ten months, found that 70 percent of troops surveyed believed that repealing the law would have mixed, positive, or no impact. The other 30 percent felt there would be negative consequences if gays were allowed to serve openly, with opposition strongest among combat troops.
"We are both convinced that our military can do this, even during this time of war," wrote the co-chairs of the study, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson and Army General Carter Ham.
A majority of concerns associated with repealing the provision against gays could be addressed through increased training and education, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a news conference.
But the findings released today are likely to provide Senate Democrats with fresh arguments as they attempt to repeal the policy over the next few weeks during the lame duck session.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he planned to bring the issue up for a vote, following hearings later this week.
"The military has spoken again, and an overwhelming number currently serving have said the time is now," Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, said today in a statement. "Not in ten years, but now. The service members on the ground have confirmed that a change in policy will do nothing to affect unit cohesion or their ability to carry out their mission. End of story."
Kerry compared the repeal to desegregating the military and allowing women in the military.
"Weíll someday look back on this policy and wonder what on earth took Washington so long to fix it," he said.
Overall, nearly 7 out of 10 respondents said they believe that they have already served with someone who is gay. Of those, only 8 percent said it had a poor impact on their unit.
"We have a gay guy. He's big, he's mean and he kills lots of bad guys," one member of the special operations force is quoted as saying. "No one cared that he was gay."
The survey was based on responses from about 115,000 troops and 44,200 military spouses.
"I will just be me," one person said. "I will bring my family to family events. I will put family pictures on my desk. I am not going to go up to people and say, 'Hi there. I'm gay."'
In addition to Brown, a number of other Republicans declined to make an immediate assessment about how the report would influence their thinking on the issue.
"Weíre reviewing the report," said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has been one of the chief obstacles to passing the repeal.
"We are reviewing the report, thatís all. I donít have anything to say."
McCain did, however, continue to criticize the parameters of the report, saying the Obama administration and the Pentagon did not conduct an objective review of the policy.
"The study was about how best to implement it, not whether it should be repealed or not," McCain said. "Thatís a bogus Ė that is not the kind of study I feel was necessary."
One other hurdle for Democrats to overcome is that they have lost a vote in Senator Roland Burris, of Illinois, who was replaced this week by Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican. Kirk, a former representative, voted against an amendment in the House earlier this year to repeal "donít ask, donít tell," but he later voted in favor of the bill that included the repeal.
His spokesman did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.