‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the battle over gays in the military

In 2010, the lame-duck Congress repealed the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gays from serving openly in the military, a fight that galvanized religious lobbyists on both sides of this volatile issue and a battle that mirrored the gay marriage debate in the wider society.


The policy, which often goes by the acronym DADT, was adopted under the Clinton administration in 1994, but it became under increasing scrutiny as the public clearly indicated it supported allowing homosexuals to serve openly.

White evangelicals were the lone and notable exception. A Nov. 29, 2010, survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life showed that 58 percent of Americans say they favor allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces while just 27 percent oppose a repeal of DADT.

Some religious groups, like Catholics and mainline Protestants, were even more supportive of repeal than the general public.

But nearly half (48 percent) of white evangelical Protestants opposed letting gays serve openly in the military and just 34 percent supported that idea. Experts said it’s also important to note that conservative Christians comprise a disproportionately large number of servicemen and women, and the issue has become especially freighted for military chaplains.

The year following the repeal of DADT was critical as the Pentagon developed policies for an orderly transition. Issues surrounding chaplains and religious freedom were closely-watched and debated.