Gates urges gay service members to participate in 'Don't ask, don't tell' survey

Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged gays and lesbians in the military to fill out the Pentagon’s survey on attitudes toward repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law despite privacy concerns raised by some advocates.

The Clinton-era law bans openly gay people from serving in the armed forces, although they may serve without making their sexual orientation known.

The Pentagon on Wednesday sent survey questions to 400,000 service members, seeking information on how they view the ban.

But Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), one of the leading organizations focused solely on the repeal of the law, on Thursday warned members of the military there’s no guarantee their privacy would be protected if they participate. SLDN’s executive director, Aubrey Sarvis, said the Pentagon did not satisfy the organization’s requests to try to prevent any inadvertent “outing” through the surveys.

However, Gates on Thursday said he “strongly encouraged” gays and lesbians to complete the survey without fear that their privacy would be compromised.

“We organized this in a way to protect their privacy and the confidentiality of their responses through a third party, and it's important that we hear from them as well as everybody else,” Gates said at a press briefing.

Gates called the survey a “very important element” of the Pentagon’s preparation for a change in the law. Both he and Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, support President Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to see the law repealed.

The House included a provision in the 2011 defense authorization bill that would repeal the law only after the Pentagon finishes its review of repeal implementation at the end of the year. Obama, Gates and Mullen also would have to certify repeal can be achieved consistent with the military’s standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruitment and retention.

The Senate Armed Services Committee included a similar provision in its version of the defense authorization bill; it has yet to get a full Senate vote. After that, House and Senate would have to negotiate to reconcile differences in the bills before the president can sign a final one into law.