Four former US generals have joined a growing call to end a policy barring homosexuals from openly serving in the military, after a study showed it was out of step with the times and harming the armed forces.
The retired officers from the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps found in a year-long study that the 15-year-old policy, which allows gays to serve in the military only if they do not reveal their homosexuality, "is not working."
"The military is losing critical talent and it's requiring some members to serve with a unique disadvantage in that they can't be honest with their peers," Nathaniel Franks, a senior research fellow at the Michael D. Palm research center in California, which commissioned the study, told AFP on Tuesday.
The Pentagon policy -- called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- is mandated by a congressional statute passed under president Bill Clinton in 1993 and replaced a blanket ban on homosexuals serving in the military.
The "Don't Ask" part of the policy means military recruits can no longer be questioned about their sexual orientation; "Don't Tell" means that, as long as they don't reveal their homosexuality, through words or actions, they may continue to serve.
"Clinton framed his position in terms of 'meritocracy,' saying the nation could not afford to exclude capable citizens from helping their country even if some citizens did not like them," the generals said in the study.
"Those opposed to lifting the gay ban... cast the issue as one of 'national security' and 'military readiness,' arguing that such a change would put lives needlessly at risk by compromising the high standards of discipline, morale, and unit cohesion on which a strong military relies," the study said.
After reviewing material from congressional hearings and interviewing military personnel, the generals concluded the policy was not working, in part because attitudes towards gays in the military have changed since 1993.
Fifteen years ago around 40 percent of the public supported allowing "openly gay men and lesbian women" to serve in the military; today, between 58 and 79 percent hold that view, according to the study.
"These days so much has changed in the culture, including the military, that we find in our research -- and this is reflected in the findings in the generals' report -- that commanders themselves are not fans of the policy," said Franks.
"It's making it difficult for them to do their work."
In calling for the repeal of the law and the axing of the policy, the generals recommend that "an across-the-board set of rules be put in place that regulate sexual activity," said Franks.
These uniform standards would be "neutral with respect to sexual orientation," the study says.
"So there would be no scrutiny of sexual orientation. This is what has happened in Britain, Israel and Canada with great success," Franks said.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith insisted that sexual conduct, not sexual orientation, was the criterion on which gay service members could be excluded from the military.
"The law establishes the basis for separation from the armed forces as conduct, not orientation. Our policy reflects the law, ie no military member is discharged due to his or her sexual orientation," Smith said in a statement emailed to AFP.
The study indicated otherwise.
"According to a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office, nearly 800 people with skills deemed 'mission-critical' by the Pentagon have been dismissed" under the policy, it said.
The study also found that around 1,000 men and women were discharged from the military each year as a direct result of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and that "3,000 would likely have stayed in the military if they could have served openly."
Smith said the Pentagon will "follow congressional direction on homosexual conduct."
More than 140 members of Congress support an act calling for the law to be repealed, which would give the Pentagon the flexibility to drop the policy, said Franks.