ELLIOT SPAGAT | Associated Press
CAMP PENDLETON, California — Marine instructor Maj. Daryl Desimone stood before an auditorium filled with fatigue-clad troops, carrying an unequivocal message: It’s OK to disagree with letting gays serve openly in the military. It’s not OK to disobey orders.
He explained that the impending repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is an order, one heard by generals and rank-and-file alike as the military tries to change the culture of a traditionally conservative institution.
Only a few of the 150 Marines stepped up to ask questions.
One stood up from a back row and demanded to know why his religious beliefs were being “put aside” in favor of gays, forcing him to “basically grit my teeth and bear it.”
“It’s not really open to discussion,” Desimone said. “Nobody’s trying to change your mind.”
Sexual orientation will now be a private matter, just like religion or politics, he said.
Sgt. Jay Milinichik stood up to ask what would happen if a Marine refused gay roommates.
Marines won’t have separate barracks or showers based on sexual orientation, Desimone said. He added that signing up for the Marines comes with an expectation of less privacy.
That said, officers may decide to separate roommates to preserve peace, just like they do now when roommates argue.
Marines will not be allowed an early discharge for opposing the policy but exceptions will be considered, Desimone said.
“You can’t just walk up and say, ‘I don’t like this. I’m outta here,”’ he said.
Classes like Thursday’s for the Combat Logistics Regiment 17 of the 1st Marine Logistics Group are being held at military bases around the world. The Marines expect to finish training by June 1, with all military branches done by summer’s end.
The repeal of the 17-year “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would go into effect 60 days after the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that lifting the ban won’t hurt the military’s ability to fight.
Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, testified last year that permitting gays to openly serve could disrupt smaller combat units and distract leaders from preparing for battle.
When he appeared this month before the House Armed Services Committee, he said he had been looking for problems that might arise under the new policy and hadn’t found any “recalcitrant pushback.”
“There has not been the anxiety over it from the forces in the field,” he said.
In small group discussions, Marines are being asked to consider their reactions to a wide range of scenarios, from seeing a member “hanging around” a gay bar to hearing locker-room jokes from others who refuse to shower in front of gays.
There is nothing wrong with “hanging around” a gay bar, the training materials state.
The officer who witnesses the loud locker-room banter aimed at gays and lesbians should remind the Marines any discrimination or harassment is inappropriate.
If a Marine spots two men in his battalion kissing off-duty at a shopping mall, he should react as if he were seeing a man and woman, according to the training materials.
If he turns on the television news to see a fellow Marine dressed as a civilian and marching in a parade with a banner that reads, “Support Gays and Lesbians in the Military!” he should accept it as a free right of expression.
A top-notch Marine recruiter opposed to the new policy cannot refuse a promising applicant because of sexual orientation. The recruiter might be considered for another assignment or, at the Navy secretary’s discretion, might be granted early discharge.
Chaplains who preach at base chapels that homosexuality is a sin are entitled to express their beliefs during worship.
At Thursday’s class at Camp Pendleton, there were several questions about benefits.
Desimone said Marines must follow federal law that only recognizes marriage between a man and woman, disqualifying gays from housing allowances and other benefits afforded to married couples.
But he pondered a scenario in which a gay couple would be allowed to live in military base housing because they have children and the partner is a custodial parent.
“There are inconsistencies,” he said. “Anyone who looks at it logically will see there are some things that need to be worked out.”
After class, Petty Officer William Evans of Riverside, Calif., said he was a bit “blindsided” when the repeal was announced. The hospital corpsman lives off the base, but said he would feel uncomfortable sharing barracks with a gay man.
“Of course, it’s not something that everyone’s going to be comfortable with, but we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.