Last week, the Pentagon released a survey about "don't ask, don't tell" to 400,000 US service members . Gay groups pounced immediately, complained about the survey's bias and aired their grievances to journalists who provided them with a great deal of air time.
The Pentagon survey is flawed, to be sure. Several questions ask whether gays or lesbians impact unit cohesion "a lot," "a little," "some," or "not at all," with no way to indicate whether that effect is positive or negative.
Perhaps even more troubling, the survey asks questions that would never be posed of other minority groups. Can you imagine asking, "How would you feel about sharing a tent with a Catholic soldier?" Such questions stigmatize the minority group under consideration, thus sending a signal that undermines efforts to promote equality. As Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, said recently: "...[I]t's not our practice to go within our military and poll our force to determine if they like the laws of the land or not...That gets you into a very difficult regime."
Yet while there are valid criticisms to be made of the survey, dwelling on it ultimately amounts to a distraction. While we value and welcome the feedback of the troops, the most important question now is whether the White House and Department of Defense will show leadership in insisting on non-discriminatory regulations to replace "don't ask, don't tell."
The answer to this question does not depend on whether 47 percent, 53 percent, or 62 percent of the troops respond to a question in a certain way. Rather, the key is whether President Obama, Secretary Gates, and Chairman Mullen will insist on non-discrimination after they receive the Pentagon's study in December.
For implementation to be successful, they must set a clear and uniform standard for all troops, regardless of sexual orientation. The research shows clearly that if all service members are held to the same standards, and if leaders show support for those standards, the transition will be smooth. The focus of "don't ask, don't' tell" repeal advocates should remain where it matters most, the leaders who are responsible for dismantling "don't ask, don't tell."