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Defense department won't track gay military numbers

Department of Defense actuaries can tell you that half of all service members are married. They know that 14 percent of enlisted are women and 11.6 percent are Hispanic. They even know that 20.2 percent of members are Roman Catholic and less than one percent are Jewish. But, they will caution, 19.5 percent claim no religious preference or decline to identify one.

What Defense actuaries won't be able to tell you -- because they won't know -- is how many homosexuals serve in the military. Sexual orientation is to be "a personal and private matter" under new Department of Defense policy guidelines set to prepare for repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law.

Even attempting to collect such data will be banned.

"(Defense) components, including the services, are not authorized to request, collect or maintain information about the sexual orientation of service members except when it is an essential part of an otherwise appropriate investigation or other official action," said Clifford Stanley, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The data collection ban is part of a rules packet that emphasizes privacy. The objective, Stanley explained, is to treat all members "with dignity and respect and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline."

Stanley and Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a progress report on implementation efforts at a Pentagon press conference last Friday. Repeal, Stanley said, is expected to occur sometime later this year though there is no "artificial" target date.

The policy confirms many benefit questions surrounding gay service members, such as whether partners will qualify for military health care or whether married gay members will get the higher "with dependents" housing allowance are settled by the Defense of Marriage Act. That law prohibits extension of many federal benefits to same-sex couples including housing allowances, health care and travel reimbursements.

Gay members will be able to designate partners as beneficiaries for programs such as the Service Member's Group Life Insurance, the federal Thrift Savings Plan, military survivor benefits and the lump sum death gratuity.

Stanley and Cartwright confirmed that repeal is being implemented as quickly as possible and in three phases: writing Department of Defense policies and final service regulations; preparing training materials and the training of chaplains, counselors and commanders; and finally the training of service members.

All members are to be tutored on how the law allows gays to serve openly and on how all ranks are to accept this without discrimination. The idea behind the training is that if service members are to be held accountable for adhering to standards of behavior regarding gay members, then they should be briefed on the same.

This adheres to recommendations from the comprehensive review conducted last year by Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson and Army Gen. Carter Ham.

Johnson and Ham felt gays would be accepted more readily in the military community if there were no sense they had been "elevated to a special status as a 'protected class' and will receive special treatment."

Sexual orientation, they said, shouldn't be a factor in recruiting, promotion or any personnel decision-making. Advancement or selection boards won't be told to meet gay quotas, for example. Complaints "of discrimination, harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation can be dealt with through existing mechanisms," primarily the chain of command.

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