February 10, 2010 at 10:44 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Poll finds majority continue to support ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

A majority of voters continue to support allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military, 57-36 percent, according to a new poll.

But the same findings, published Wednesday by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, found that voters favor restrictions on gay service members “exhibiting” their sexual orientation on the job, 54-38.

The new poll is consistent with several polls in recent years showing that the American public favors repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the 1993 law prohibiting gays, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military.

Support for repeal was particularly strong among Democrats, who favor repeal 72-23 percent. Independents support open service 56-37 percent, while Republicans oppose repeal by 53-40 percent.

Responders from military households with an active or reserve member or a veteran in their family were divided on repeal, 48-47 percent. Men narrowly favor repeal, 51-44 percent, while women support open service, 62-29 percent.

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a statement that the new findings show “American voters say go ahead and allow gays to openly serve in the military.”

“But they are much more mixed on exactly how the transformation of the military will occur and how the Pentagon should adjust to needs of gay soldiers, sailors and Marines,” he said.

Brown also said the poll “perhaps surprisingly” found little difference in support for repeal among different age groups. The poll found that 57 percent of people ages 18-34 favor repeal; 59 percent of people ages 35-54 favor repeal; and 54 percent of people age 55 or older favor repeal.

The poll offered other findings on topics related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:

• voters said prohibiting open gays from serving in the U.S. military amounts to discrimination, 66-31 percent;

• responders said the military shouldn’t pursue disciplinary action against gays who are outed by third parties, 82-10 percent;

• voters said ending the law won’t be divisive in the U.S. military or impair the nation’s ability to fight effectively, 65-30 percent;

• responders said the U.S. military shouldn’t provide domestic partner benefits for service members with same-sex partners, 50-43 percent;

• and responders were split on whether straight service members should be required to share quarters with gay personnel, 45-46 percent.

Nathaniel Frank, author of “Unfriendly Fire” and research fellow at the Palm Center, a think-tank on gays in the military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the findings are “a reminder of just how poorly understood [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] is, and also of the limitations of polls.”

“Respondents say highly contradictory things, including the assertion that majorities both oppose restrictions on openly gay service and believe that such openness should continue to be restricted,” he said.

Frank said the notion of whether the ban on open service is discrimination isn’t “a matter of opinion but an empirical question.”

“Whether banning open gays is discrimination in the first place is not open to question, and even the creators of [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] acknowledge the policy is discriminatory,” he said.

But Frank said the new findings have “some relevance to the debate” because they show continued decline in opposition to open service over time.

“While polls should not be the basis of social or military policy, these trends do undercut the old ‘unit cohesion’ argument that says openly gay service will harm the bonds of trust that create cohesive units,” he said. “As tolerance of, and comfort with, homosexuality continues to rise, it becomes harder to claim with a straight face that working closely with a gay person is going to bring down the world’s most powerful fighting force.”

Quinnipiac University determined the results of the survey by surveying 2,617 registered voters nationwide, Feb. 2-8. The margin of error is 1.9 percentage points.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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