Reporting from San Diego — With U.S. troops — including 20,000 Marines — locked in a "tough fight" in Afghanistan, now is not the time to lift the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military, the new commandant of the Marine Corps said Saturday.
Gen. James Amos told reporters in San Diego that he was concerned about a possible loss of unit cohesion and combat readiness if the ban is overturned.
"There's risk involved," Amos said. "I'm trying to determine how to measure that risk. This is not a social thing. This is combat effectiveness."
Amos assumed the commandant job two weeks ago, succeeding Gen. James Conway.
In August, during his last visit with troops in Afghanistan, Conway repeatedly asked gatherings of enlisted Marines throughout Helmand province whether they thought unit cohesion would be harmed if openly gay people could serve. Almost unanimously, the young Marines indicated they felt it would.
Combat, Amos said, is an "intimate" experience without parallel in civilian life.
"We're talking about our young men — laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers," he said.
Amos, 63, said he was reviewing the results of a poll of military members and their families about the potential effects of lifting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. He declined to characterize the findings.
Amos said that, unlike other services, the Marine Corps requires many of its members to share rooms while in garrison. That complicates the issue, he said.
The Department of Defense review of the 1993 law is due to be completed Dec. 1. Meanwhile, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has voted 2 to 1 to stay a trial judge's ruling that called for an immediate suspension of the law.
The Justice Department, at the urging of the Pentagon, had asked that the Oct. 12 ruling, by Judge Virginia Phillips, be blocked while appeals are filed.
President Obama has said he wants the law overturned. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, have said they support repeal of the law by Congress.