July 19, 2008
World News With Charles Gibson (ABC), 6:30 PM
DAVID MUIR: We’re going to take “A Closer Look” tonight at the role of gays in the U.S. military and a dramatic turnaround in American public opinion. Fifteen years ago today, President Clinton unveiled his controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and back then, less than half of Americans supported the idea of allowing gays to serve openly. Now, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows a full three quarters of Americans support it.
Here’s ABC’s Miguel Marquez tonight.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ: Eric Alva was the first American injured in Iraq.
USMC SSGT. ERIC ALVA (RET.): It’s computerized.
MARQUEZ: Three hours into the war, a landmine blew off his right leg.
ALVA: As you can see, I lost my index finger.
MARQUEZ: A staff sergeant in the Marines, he was hailed as a hero.
ALVA: In Bethesda at the side of my bed, President Bush even – you know, the First Lady, she gave me a hug. You know, they called me a hero.
MARQUEZ: Because of his injury, he was honorably discharged.
ALVA: A part of me in Iraq died, shed blood, and for the people of this country.
MARQUEZ: Last year, Alva announced he was gay and says not only does the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy have to be overturned, but the military should go farther to protect gays.
[To Alva.] Would there have to be some sort of law, some sort of rules to protect gays in the military?
ALVA: Sure, I mean, in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the UCMJ, would probably have to be changed as well.
MARQUEZ: Since the policy was adopted in 1993, 12,500 men and women have been dismissed from the military. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay advocacy group, says nearly 800 of those dismissed had skills the Pentagon deemed mission critical. For example, 300 language experts have been forced out, including 58 specializing in Arabic.
REP. SUSAN DAVIS (D-CA): I think over the years, people have begun to ask whether it really serves that purpose.
MARQUEZ: When then President Clinton announced the policy, he paid a heavy political price for it. Fifteen years later, is the military and the country ready to revisit “don’t ask, don’t tell”? The two presidential candidates differ sharply.
SEN. MCCAIN: (From tape.) It is working, my friends – the policy is working.
SEN. OBAMA: (From tape.) I will reverse the policy when I’m president of the United States of America.
MARQUEZ: A bipartisan study by retired military officers concluded that gays serving in the military would have little effect on a unit’s ability to fight. But many soldiers disagree.
ARMY LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS (RET.): When you undermine trust and confidence because of forced intimate situations where there’s sexual tension – same-sex tension – then you really hurt the overall ability of an organization to function effectively.
MARQUEZ: Eric Alva says the military should accept him just as many of his Marine colleagues already have.
ALVA: As of to date, three of my friends, three Marines – I’m godfather to three of their sons.
MARQUEZ: Alva will testify before Congress next week on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Miguel Marquez, ABC News, San Diego.