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Levin backs 'don't ask' survey, but understands 'resentment'

By Ed O'Keefe

Video by The Christian Science Monitor

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he generally supports the Pentagon's survey of troops regarding "don't ask, don't tell" so long as it helps military leadership determine how to end the policy.

"I think it’s okay, even though it’s kind of unprecedented," Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters Tuesday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "It did not happen when it came to the inclusion of women; it did not come with the ending of discrimination against African Americans. I can understand the resentment, by the way, in the gay community, that this occurs now but not with those other efforts."

Levin is a leading supporter of Congressional efforts to repeal the gay ban as part of this year's defense spending bill. The full Senate is expected to vote soon on the bill. Ahead of a final vote, the Pentagon is studying the repeal's potential impact on morale, recruitment, retention and military families and sent a survey last week about the issue to 400,000 active duty and reserve troops.

The survey's results will be included in a final report due to President Obama by Dec. 1, but Levin said the results should not be released publicly.

"It was intended to be a private survey, and it ought to stay that way," Levin said. "I have no hopes that that will be in the case, but I can dream.”

Levin also said troops shouldn't think the survey gives them an opportunity to veto a repeal. "The military is not a democracy," he said.

He supports the idea of surveying the troops on a regular basis on general morale and military life issues, "provided it’s clearly understood that it’s just a question to help guide decision makers to the extent that it is relevant."

But he warned, "It could be overdone, it’s surely overdone with politicians."

Watch The Federal Eye quiz Sen. Levin in the video above, provided by the Christian Science Monitor

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | July 13, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Congress, Military  
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Well, that said quite a bit about how our troops feel. I don't belive the pentagon would have sent out the survey just for whims and wishes. The voices of the troops must be heard 100% They are the ones with their lives on the line everyday.
I'm not voicing my thoughts, I disagree with withholding the Troops viewpoints when they were requested through the survey. They should fully be taken into cosideration.

Posted by: 1greenwood | July 13, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

The idea of the survey is one thing; the content of it is another.

If the military wants you to have an opinion, they'll issue you one. A servicemember's job is to follow orders.

The survey will become a political football and a tool by anti-Gay politicians to slow or stop military discrimination against LGBT patriots.

And the content! Insult after insult. "Suppose you had to live in a barracks with a Gay person. Suppose you had to share a field tent with one. Suppose you had to use a bathroom with one!" Stereotype after stereotype of the marauding homosexual who's also miraculously a sissy who won't fight. Which dueling stereotype do you prefer?

"Suppose you had to share a field tent with a Negro..."

The Pentagon should withdraw this survey immediately. Obama, this means you.

Posted by: joshtom | July 13, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

To bad it won't actually be annonymous and someone will be terminated becasue of it. Every soldier on a base has to log in to the base system to acces the internet and this survey. Even though the survey doesn't ask for any personal details, with the security of military service platforms, they would be able to find out who, rather easily. For those that live off base, its much harder to track, but with the current conflict around the world, a huge part of the armend forces will have to log on through a base system.

Posted by: schnauzer2 | July 13, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

They forgot the best question: "do you like movies about gladiators"?

Posted by: nuke41 | July 13, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

When I see a guy that I think might be gay checking me out it make me very very uncomfortable, like my ears burning and stuff. I don't think our soldiers should be forced to be uncomfortable in battle.

Posted by: ToddPollard | July 13, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse


I am glad to see your enlightened thoughts about military memebrs having an opinion "If the military wants you to have an opinion, they'll issue you one. A servicemember's job is to follow orders." Funny how you can't carry that same thought process over to those issues you support. Currently the military policy is - if you are gay we don't want to know about it - so I guess, using your philosophy, we can say if the military wanted you to have a same sex relationship they will issue you a same sex partner.

You sir, are a moron.

I served proudly in the military for over 20 years. During that time I served, proudly, with other service members who I knew to be gay. They didn't flaunt it. they didn't discuss it. They did their jobs proudly.

What I do find offensive is morons with your attitude wo think that members of the military should have no opinion. Senator Levin- the military votes too. Please don't discount their opinions. A military member's opinion on this matter is more relevant than a civilian who has never served or never intends to serve. The only non-military opinions I would accept are those of gay men and women who want to serve and not have to be afraid of their own sexual identity.

Posted by: hoyalawya96 | July 13, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Permitting gays and lesbians to serve violates the privacy rights of those around them under current circumstances. Many people know that gays and lesbians can and do serve honorably, but they don't do so as gays and lesbians.

We don't permit heterosexual men in women's shower rooms. We don't permit heterosexual women in men's shower rooms. That's because each man and woman is permitted to bathe and sleep without risk of becoming the object of another person's sexual or romantic interest.

You can say people will all act respectfully of one another. If that is true, then there is no need for sex segregation of showering and bunking facilities of heterosexual males and females.

Posted by: blasmaic | July 13, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

It all goes to prove in so many relevant ways the degree to which lesbian and gay Americans are truly discriminated against in this, the supposed cradle of liberty.

Liberty only if you conform is not liberty.

Posted by: ethanquern | July 13, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

ToddPollard wrote "When I see a guy that I think might be gay checking me out it make me very very uncomfortable, like my ears burning and stuff. I don't think our soldiers should be forced to be uncomfortable in battle."

When I'm in combat, I'm more concerned about checking out than who's checking me out...

Posted by: grumpycarl63 | July 13, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Those opposing the survey: Perhaps the better question is this one: if we insist on segregating men and women in bathing and sleeping quarters, then shouldn't we also segregate gays and straights in the same way? It's not skin color (that's discrimination). It's sexual orientation. If you don't want gays and straights segregated, then make the sleeping quarters at military installations Unisex. One shower for all. Please pass the soap.

Posted by: powerange | July 13, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

How about survey questions like these? Would you be comfortable serving with a *Christian*? Would you obey a commander who was a *Mormon*? Would you feel comfortable in a shower with an *Asian-American*? Would you take orders from a *Jew*? Would you feel comfortable showering with an *African-American*? Would you leave the service if you had to serve with a *woman*? All ludicrous, right? But somehow NOT ludicrous if you substitute the *'ed words with "gay"? These are easily recognizable as offensive as they stand, yet people think it's not offensive as long as it refers to gay men and lesbians? That's bizarre logic.

Lesbians and gay men serve openly and proudly in most major military forces around the globe. It's a non-issue. I can't wait when, 10 years from now, people are aghast when they look back on this to see that fellow Americans--their friends, siblings, parents, children, etc. were once treated this way in a supposedly free country where we treat everyone equally and with respect. Unless you are gay, that is. If there had been a survey when women and African-Americans were integrated, you can bet you sweet jeebus they would have been voted off the island. If you are more worried about who sleeps in your barracks or who fights with you in your foxhole, than you are of doing a proper job, you have no place in the military.

Posted by: sawrdja | July 13, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Everyone needs to see the 1982 Oscar-winning film "Tootsie" again. It's a romantic comedy about an actor who pretends to be a woman to get a job coaching an actress, who he then falls in love with. It's hilarious and everyone loved the film, including appearances by Sydney Pollack and Bill Murray.

Most importantly, it is believable because when a person falls in love, he or she spends a great deal of time in the intimate company of the person to whom he or she is romantically/sexually attracted. Permitting gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military assumes that professionalism will prevail over love, and that such men and women will not fall in love with their fellow soldiers. We all know that that's just not true, and we all know that soldiers cannot choose who they shower and bunk with.

It's not because of hate that gays and lesbians cannot serve openly. It's because of love.

Posted by: blasmaic | July 13, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

There are gay people throughout society. Gay people grow up and are socialized exactly the same as everyone else: gay males, in high school, take gym and swimming classes along with all the other males. They shower in the male showers, along with all the other male students. They use the male bathrooms, just like all the other boys in high school.

There are, today, gay soldiers sleeping right along side heterosexual soldiers, and showering right along side them. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" simply means the straight soldiers don't KNOW it, but they are certainly there.

No one can control other people's thoughts or fears. You NEVER know what another person is thinking of you. That straight soldier next to you in the shower may be internally comparing himself you. So? Frankly, what he thinks of you is none of your business. He needs to take a shower and mind HIS own business. And it has NOTHING to do with whether one is gay or not.

People are “uncomfortable” with all sorts of things. Why single out someone’s discomfort with “gay people” as a class? The category itself is as much a social construct as “black people” or “liberals”, yet we kick people out of the Military based on a vague claim that someone may at some point be made “uncomfortable” by that social construct?!

This always boils down to a pretty insulting discussion: let's not let gay soldiers risk their lives for the country they love because SOMEONE hypothetically may feel a bit uncomfortable. Like risking your life in the military is supposed to be about feeling "comfortable"! Any soldier who thinks it is probably doesn't belong in the military to begin with.

Posted by: ricklinguist | July 13, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

"...It's not because of hate that gays and lesbians cannot serve openly. It's because of love. " Posted by: blasmaic | July 13, 2010 4:23 PM

Thank you for a thoughtful post. While I recognize your concern, I must tell you, respectfully, that I don't think the solution to the problem as you see it is to make gay people lie in order to serve their country.

I am gay. My best friend in high school followed me to college. He followed me overseas. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he loved me. Overseas, I made friends with a group of guys, and he was clearly jealous and extremely upset. At one point, he broke down and cried.

Here's the thing:

My best friend was --and is, to this day-- heterosexual. Not gay. Not bisexual. He has been married to a woman for the last 30 years or so.

But he definitely loved me. Nothing in DADT would have prevented my heterosexual friend from serving openly in the Military. Yet there it is.

Heterosexual men and women serve openly. When problems arise, deal with the problems. Telling heterosexuals that they have to pretend they aren't straight isn't the solution.

Another true story:

A soldier ending up in the same squad as someone he had gone to high school with. At one time, they were best friends. Then his best friend "stole" his girl friend. They became bitter enemies. Yet here they were together in the same squad. The solution? Their sergeant told them to get over it or else. Whether or not they "got over it", they had to live together, in close quarters, and they did.

You cannot predict these things. You never know who will or will not get along with one another. Frankly, you cannot set policy to try and social engineer it, which, alas, is what this grand social experiment of DADT is trying to do.

It doesn't work.

It's easy to come up with rationales for why one group or another might be problematic. The thing is, individual situations due to individual people may be problematic. Groups --not so much.

Setting a policy about gay people serving openly or not at all makes as much sense as a policy based on soldiers who went to the same high school.

In the end, you really have to give soldiers more credit than that.

Posted by: ricklinguist | July 13, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Ultimately, it isn't about gay and lesbian soldiers as a group. I agree that there are many gay and lesbian people who have served the United States honorably in the military. But they haven't served as gays and lesbians. They've served as presumptive heterosexuals, and there have been many bad apples too.

Ultimately it is about the privacy right of each individual soldier. Female soldiers are permitted to bathe, dress, and sleep without concern that they will become the object of another person's sexual or romantic interest. Male soldiers are afforded the same protections.

By prohibiting gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the military, males and females can be sex-segregated and crowded into barracks without violating their most basic privacy rights. Gay and lesbian soldiers can be allowed to serve in this type of arrangement if they keep their sexual orientation secret.

Some folks in the debate have compared sexual orientation to race, religion, and creed. That's not exactly a fair description of the issue. Human sexuality generally involves doing things with someone else's body. A soldier who is merely black or Jewish or a Democrat is not exactly the same worry as one who is for example a serial mutilator. Obviously, homosexuals and lesbians are not sick people like the serial mutilators who filled the enlisted ranks between the Fall of Saigon and the Invasion of Greneda, but the issue of physical safety is qualitatively different than other forms of identity.

Under the current policy, if your bunk-mate tells you the erection in your underwear when you awaken is driving him wild with desire, then he's in the wrong. Under the new policy, you will be in the wrong if you react with violence to such an overture before breakfast, and that fact will be recorded in a database for the length of your career. That's a marked shift in workplace policy.

To end don't-ask-don't-tell fairly will require that the military assure the privacy of each individual soldier around the clock. From all the boot camp films I've ever seen, it will be a very expensive and very awkward policy to implement.

But I'm certain that the deficit can be expanded accommodate it and Halliburton can be relied upon to construct it.

Posted by: blasmaic | July 13, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Women and minorities hardest hit.

Posted by: piovino1 | July 13, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

"Under the current policy, if your bunk-mate tells you the erection in your underwear when you awaken is driving him wild with desire, then he's in the wrong. Under the new policy, you will be in the wrong if you react with violence to such an overture before breakfast, and that fact will be recorded in a database for the length of your career. That's a marked shift in workplace policy."

It certainly would constitute a marked shift. Do you have any basis for the claim that such a shift would occur? It certainly isn't the case anywhere else where gay people are open about being gay, whether in a public place, a school, or in the many foreign military that do not demand that gay soldiers lie in order to serve.

Removing DADT will not remove laws against sexual harrassment.

I am a gay man. And I would regard it as completely unacceptable if someone did that to me in the workplace or in the military. With respect, it has nothing to do with whether or not one is gay, and nothing to do with DADT.

"To end don't-ask-don't-tell fairly will require that the military assure the privacy of each individual soldier around the clock. From all the boot camp films I've ever seen, it will be a very expensive and very awkward policy to implement."

Gay men are men. We are socialized as men. We share the same public facilities as non-gay men.

Showering with others in NEVER private. If you value privacy, perhaps the Military isn't for you.

Behaving yourself isn't a gay or non-gay issue.


Posted by: ricklinguist | July 13, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

"Do you have any basis for the claim that such a shift would occur?"

The elimination of don't-ask-don't-tell is the shift. Under current policy, it is impermissible for a soldier to be openly gay. Under new policy, soldiers who are gay will be permitted to serve as openly gay. What would prevent a gay soldier from talking to another soldier about his feelings?

"Removing DADT will not remove laws against sexual harrassment."

The scenario I described was not sexual harassment. It's just the verbal overture of a man proclaiming his sexual desire for his bunk-mate. What's wrong about that in the world of open homosexuality? It isn't quid pro quo. It isn't a reapeated, unwanted sexual advance. It's just healthy, all-American homosexuality.

Gays and lesbians serving openly is not neccessarily a simple policy. Not all gays are as socialized as the media presents. Not all gays and lesbians will be positive, well-behaved people, just as not all military recruits are at their best each day of their life in uniform. Reliance upon "respect" to assure a successful policy isn't very valuable when invididual or group morale is low.

Your conclusion that an individual's right to privacy and safety is secondary to another person's right to bathe and bunk with people to whom he or she is openly sexually attracted is unusual. We all have rights. No one has rights greater than another.

As I stated in my earlier post, it's no problem for me personally if gays and lesbians serve openly in the military. The military just needs to assure the privacy and safety of its soldiers. Either use don't-ask-don't-tell-don't-really-care (which is I believe is the reasonable policy), or provide a private bunk and bath to each soldier. If congress will fund it, Halliburton can build it.

Posted by: blasmaic | July 14, 2010 4:55 AM | Report abuse

"It isn't quid pro quo. It isn't a reapeated, unwanted sexual advance. It's just healthy, all-American homosexuality."

Sorry, but no, what you described was sexual harassment. Labeling it "healthy all-American homosexuality" doesn't make it so. I am a healthy all-American homosexual, and I would report it as harassment.

Similarly, and unlike what you've stated, you will be in the wrong if you react with violence to such an overture now-- whether the person harassing you is male or female, gay or straight.

You seem to think that removing DADT will make gay people have MORE rights than heterosexuals. It will not.

Doesn't matter whether you're in the shower or the mess or simply sitting: talking about your erection to come onto someone is not acceptable -- the SAME rules will apply to everyone, despite your fears. You cannot, today, tell that to either a woman soldier OR a male soldier. What on earth makes you think that suddenly you'll be allowed to tell a male soldier (and not suddenly be allowed to tell a female soldier)? It makes no sense.

There's no way anyone would support rules that would permit it regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Posted by: ricklinguist | July 14, 2010 7:03 AM | Report abuse

@ blasmaic... I really gotta jump in and say your theories are very twisted and I have to agree with ricklinguist. I've had many friends (and a few relatives) that were openly gay. So I am not some outsider with freaky responses. What you're protraying is simply twisted. Whether gay or straight, you will always have your idiots and freaks. If you think straight guys/gals in the military will always be concerned that they are being "hit on"... then you have more problems than you think. If it does happen and you're not interested, just say no and go on your way.. but I doubt if that would ever happen anyway. Not in a close military environment (I am an Army vet 75-87). Do you think it is ok for a guy to be hitting on a women in a close military environment? Didn't think so! Because it would be wrong... and it doesn't mean it is ok to think ALL guys should be punished for that, do you? I think in time people can learn to live together; black, white, green, yellow, gay, straight, muslim, christian, etc. In my college days we studied many psychological abuses. A common one that happens to everyone is simply called "conditioning"! It's what MAKES each of us the way we are and how we use our prejudices against others. Perhaps your parents, relatives, friends or whoever you grew up with hated gays, so you are conditioned to feel the same. You'll remain that way until you can learn to overcome.

And Sen. Levin... the military is certainly not a democracy... but those soldiers DO have the same constitutional rights as your fat butt! You career politican clowns need to go... fast!

Posted by: darbyohara | July 14, 2010 8:08 AM | Report abuse

ricklinguist, you're battling back against some arguments I haven't forwarded.

I never said violence was okay. Read it above and you'll see. And my definition of sexual harassment is pretty standard and objective while yours is highly subjective.

Let's be clear about some things. A woman doesn't have to claim or believe that all men are rapists in order to assert her own right to privacy from all heterosexual men. Likewise, heterosexual men and woman should not have to claim that all gays and lesbians are violent criminals in order to assert their privacy rights either. Let's keep the debate, such as it is, on cordial terms where it belongs.

Shifting the policy will place a gay or lesbian soldier's right to be openly gay or lesbian above the right of an individual soldier to bunk and bathe with privacy and safety. It isn't neccessary to delve into gay and lesbian lifestyles or discussions of people's parents (as darbyohara above wants to do) in order to analyze the issue.

Although there is no federal law protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, I believe that all forms of non-work related discrimination are wrong. However, individuals also have rights. There are numerous Supreme Court cases identifying and defending a citizen's right to privacy.

We should provide private facilities for all recruits (Halliburton can help) or end all sex-segregation in bunking and bathing. The only alternative is to have what we have now: a presumptively heterosexual military.

Posted by: blasmaic | July 14, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

If you're not gay and gay people bother you. IT'S YOUR PROBLEM! The most un-American people are those who believe in their invisible man in the sky. Gay people are constitutionally allowed to not care about your stupid God that doesn't exist. Get a brain and stop letting a 2000 year old book of desert scribblings by unintelligent morons rule your life.

Posted by: madest | July 14, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Omitted from Mr. O’Keefe’s piece is that Senator Levin feels it is okay for surveys to ask, “Are you comfortable taking showers with gay people?” (See John McCormack’s, “Sen. Carl Levin: Okay to ask troops, ‘Are you comfortable taking showers with gay people?’ ”, The Weekly Standard’s The Blog, July 13, 2010, found at

One might also ask Senator Levin if he is comfortable taking showers with gay people.

Posted by: jmayfield68 | July 15, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

The idea of determining a policy to protect individual rights by taking a survey is sort of counter to the whole idea.

We didn't use surveys to determine that prayer in public school is impermissible because it alienated non-Christian children. We didn't use surveys to determine that a woman in a politically conservative state had a right to an abortion. We didn't use surveys to determine that denial of economic opportunities for factors not related to economic productivity (discrimination) was wrong.

America determined that even the possibility of one child being alienated meant that there could be no prayer in public school. We determined that the possibility of one woman being denied an abortion meant that abortion was legal in all states. We determined that everyone had to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws to protect even one person.

Why do we suddenly want to decide that an individual's right to privacy can be decided by what the survey said? When it comes to militay service, there seems to be an myopia that only gays and lesbians have rights as individuals.

(And just for the record, I support our current policies on prayer, abortion, and discrimination.)

Posted by: blasmaic | July 16, 2010 5:46 AM | Report abuse

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