FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Military leaders and gay and lesbian service members say the year that has passed since the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" took effect has been remarkable for what hasn't happened. Recruitment and retention have not fallen off as some opponents of the repeal predicted they would. Harassment of homosexual troops has not significantly increased. Unit cohesion has not suffered.
In fact, some of the more then 14,000 people who were pushed out of the military over the 18 years when the policy was in effect have rejoined. And some active-duty soldiers say cohesion has improved in their units because people no longer have to completely guard their personal lives.
"Basically, there's been no change in the way we do business," says Troy Rolan, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. "All our soldiers, they're soldiers -- regardless of who or what they are. They're professionals. They do what they need to do to make sure everybody's taken care of."
Some opponents of lifting the ban say it's too early to tell the full impact.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Michigan-based Center for Military Readiness, which opposes allowing gays to serve in the military, insists the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has caused problems.
The effect of the repeal on recruitment and retention has been masked by the down economy, Donnelly said, as people choose to stay in the military because they can't easily find other jobs. The real effects, she said, "may not be visible for several years."
Advocates for gay and lesbian service members have moved on to the next front in their fight for equal rights: the push to extend to same-sex couples the military benefits and support systems that married heterosexual couples enjoy.
When Army Maj. Heather Mack was assigned to Fort Bragg a little over a year ago, she spent a week getting a special "caregiver" permit allowing Ashley Broadway, her partner since 1997, to drive onto post to take the couple's 2-year-old son, Carson, to medical appointments and some children's events. But while Carson is considered a military dependent, Broadway is not because she and Mack are not married.
Same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and six states. The military does not recognize same-sex marriage in any state. So Broadway is not eligible for military medical coverage, isn't part of a family readiness group if Mack deploys, and can't get financial or other counseling offered to heterosexual spouses of service members.
Same-sex partners can't live in base housing and can't shop in post commissaries. They can't be named as beneficiaries of death benefits when a soldier is killed in combat. If the service member is stationed overseas -- an assignment that might last up to three years -- the military will not give a same-sex partner financial or other help to make the move.
Other segments of the federal government have extended some benefits to same-sex partners but not the military, which has about 1.4 million active-duty members.
"We're living with the reality of two classes of service members," says Zeke Stokes, spokesman for the Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has filed a lawsuit to try to force the military to change. "We have one class that receives all the benefits and support and recognition that the military can provide to them. And then we have the gay, lesbian and bisexual service members who are treated as second-class."
Service members and advocacy groups say some gay, lesbian and bisexual troops still are afraid to reveal their sexual identities to military coworkers and supervisors out of fear they might be passed over for promotions or assignments, or even fired under other pretenses.
Others have had positive experiences.
When Army Capt. Daniel Toven was scheduled to take command of the Army's Ground Forces Band at Fort Bragg earlier this year, he hoped to bring his partner, Johnathan Taylor, to the ceremony, but thought Taylor might have to attend anonymously.
Not only was Toven able to put Taylor on the guest list as his partner, but Taylor was seated on the front row with Toven's parents.
Toven believes the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will result in a better force overall.
"In a military that's all volunteer, we always want to have the very best serving our nation," Toven says. "Now, we can get the very best, capitalize on their skills and put them at the service of our nation, regardless of their sexual orientation."
(Contact reporter Martha Quillin at mquillinnewsobserver.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)