(CNSNews.com) - Homosexual activists voiced optimism Wednesday that a momentum shift in public opinion will eventually bring victory in a campaign to end a ban on homosexuals serving in the armed forces.
But one of the polls cited to back their view in fact found that more service members oppose allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military than support the change.
U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) on Wednesday reintroduced legislation that would repeal a more than 200-year-old ban on homosexuals in the military and put into law a "policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation."
Congress in 1993 affirmed military policy banning homosexuals from serving, concluding that "the prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary." The law required the Department of Defense to discharge service members who were discovered to be homosexual or bisexual.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) is the policy implemented by President Bill Clinton that allows homosexuals to skirt the ban by not allowing military officials to ask about a soldier's sexuality.
Meehan first attempted to repeal the ban in 1993 when Democrats controlled Congress and the White House. He also introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in 2005, but the bill never moved out of the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee.
Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a non-profit group that opposed DADT, told Cybercast News Service he's optimistic that the ban will eventually be overturned.
"I certainly think that there is momentum building to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" he said. "People now see that it's appropriate for gays to serve openly."
Osburn cited polling data suggesting that Americans are open to homosexuals serving openly. A January 2007 Harris Interactive poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly; 19 percent believe they should be allowed to serve only if their sexuality is kept a secret.
Osburn also pointed to a December 2006 Zogby poll of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in which 73 percent of soldiers reported being "comfortable ... in the presence of gays and lesbians."
Significantly, however, the same poll also found that only 26 percent of service members support allowing homosexuals to serve openly while 37 percent oppose the idea.
A December 2006 poll conducted by Military Times found that 30 percent of service members support allowing homosexuals to serve openly while 59 percent oppose it.
Osburn said that regardless of military opposition, "people are just a lot more comfortable with gay Americans and realize that it has absolutely nothing to do with performance, and people I think are ready to move on."
Osburn said that while he is optimistic the ban will eventually be overturned, his group is setting modest goals for the current session of Congress.
"Our goals for this session of Congress are to have reintroduction in the house, have more cosponsors than we did in the last session of Congress and to hold hearings at least at the subcommittee level so that the dialogue can begin again," he said.
In remarks prepared for a news conference Wednesday, Meehan criticized the ban and DADT, saying they "undermined our national security interests by advancing a policy of discrimination before our military readiness."
"Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and allowing our military to keep all of the best and brightest at a time of absolutely necessity is a matter of national security," Meehan said, estimating that 41,000 homosexuals might join the military if the ban is lifted.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness, opposes the DADT policy but supports continuing the ban on homosexuals in the military. She believes that opening the military to homosexuals could harm recruitment of heterosexuals.
Donnelly said DADT is inconsistent with the ban, because it effectively allows homosexuals to serve in the military when the law requires that they be banned from doing so.
"Problematic inconsistencies between Clinton's enforcement regulations and the 1993 homosexual conduct law have contributed to years of confusion, and an advantage for activists who want to repeal both," Donnelly said in a release Wednesday.
"For the sake of civilian institutions as well as the military," Donnelly said, "homosexual activists should not be allowed to impose their agenda on the armed forces. All Americans can serve our country in some way, but not everyone is eligible to serve in the military."
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