WASHINGTON — Military leaders have concluded that last year's repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in uniform has not affected morale or readiness so far, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.
"My view is that the military has kind of moved beyond it. It's become part and parcel of what they've accepted within the military," Panetta told reporters during a Pentagon press conference.
Some military leaders initially had expressed concerns that repealing the 18-year-old ban could undermine unit cohesion, particularly among troops serving on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But a report to Panetta, obtained by the Associated Press, provides the individual assessments of all the military services and the combatant commands, and all said that as of May 1 they had seen no issues or effects of the repeal, which took effect in September. The military service leaders have been sending Panetta monthly updates.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said he had seen no negative effects on military order or discipline.
"What were we afraid of is we didn't know," Dempsey said when asked why military officials were so worried about the repeal before it took effect. "I think that the way we were given a year to make this assessment to educate ourselves to collaborate, to build the sense of trust on this issue, and given that time to do it, I think it worked out well."
The Pentagon's worries were buttressed by early surveys that showed combat troops in particular — including 56 percent of Marines who served in combat — viewed repeal negatively in terms of how it could affect readiness and unit cohesion.
After the repeal date, however, defense officials said the concerns apparently were unfounded, and it turned out to be a "nonevent."