MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Marine Gen. James F. Amos, the face of opposition in the military to lifting the ban on gays serving openly, now acknowledges his concern has proven unfounded that repeal would undermine the war effort. In fact, he says, Marines have embraced the change.
In an Associated Press interview, Amos called the repeal in September "a non-event."
That is in contrast to his cautionary words to Congress in December 2010, shortly before President Barack Obama signed the repeal legislation. The ban was not lifted until this year to allow the Pentagon to prepare troops for the change.
"Successfully implementing repeal and assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus on preparing units for combat," Amos testified. Still, he said at the time that if the law were changed, it would be faithfully followed by Marines.
He now sees no sign of disruption in the ranks — even on the front lines.
"I'm very pleased with how it has gone," Amos said during a weeklong trip that included four days in Afghanistan, where he heard nary a word of worry about gays. During give-and-take sessions with Marines serving on in Helmand province, he was asked about a range of issues, including the future of the Corps — but not one about gays.
The Associated Press accompanied Amos on the trip.
In the AP interview, he also offered an anecdote from the home front to make his point that the change has been taken in stride.
He said that at the annual ball in Washington this month celebrating the birth of the Marine Corps, a female Marine approached Amos' wife, Bonnie, and introduced herself and her lesbian partner.
"Bonnie just looked at them and said, 'Happy birthday ball. This is great. Nice to meet you,'" Amos said. "That is happening throughout the Marine Corps."
Looking back, Amos said he had no regrets about publicly opposing repeal during wartime. He said he had felt obliged, as commandant of the Corps, to set aside his personal opinions and represent the views of the 56 percent of combat Marines who told a Defense Department survey last year that repeal could make them less effective and cohesive in combat.
"I think I did exactly what I should have done," Amos said. "I've never looked back on it and said it (his concern) was misplaced."
Not only did Amos hear no talk about the repeal's impact during his visit to Afghanistan, the subject also did not arise when he fielded questions from Marines on board the USS Bataan warship in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday.
In Bahrain on Sunday, one Marine broached the topic gently. He asked Amos whether he planned to change the Marines' policy of leaving it to the discretion of local commanders to decide how to handle complaints about "homosexual remarks or actions." Amos said no.
He said he is aware of only one reported incident in Afghanistan thus far, and that turned out to be a false alarm. He said a blogger had written of a gay Marine being harassed by fellow Marines for his sexual orientation. In an ensuing investigation, the gay Marine denied he had been harassed.
A Defense Department spokeswoman, Cynthia O. Smith, said implementation of the repeal of the gay ban is proceeding smoothly across the military.
"We attribute this success to our comprehensive pre-repeal training program, combined with the continued close monitoring and enforcement of standards by our military leaders at all levels," Smith said.
In the months leading up to Congress' repeal, there were indications that the change might not be embraced so readily.
During a visit to a Marine combat outpost in southern Afghanistan in June, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates was confronted by an enlisted Marine who clearly objected to the repeal. He told Gates that the Marine Corps had "a set of standards and values that is better than that of the civilian sector," and that repeal of the gay ban had "changed those values."
He asked Gates whether Marines who object to serving with gays would be allowed to opt out of their enlistment. Gates said no and predicted that if pre-repeal training was done right, "nothing will change" with regard to rules of behavior and discipline.
That Marine was not alone in making known his doubts about the wisdom of allowing gays to serve openly in uniform. In a survey of military members last year, 45 percent of Marines viewed repeal negatively in terms of how it could affect combat readiness, effectiveness and cohesion. Among those Marines who serve in combat roles, 56 percent expressed that view.
The issue split the military. Gates and other senior military leaders supported lifting the restrictions, pointing to a Pentagon study showing that most people in uniform don't object to serving with gays.
But Amos and his Army counterpart bucked their bosses to recommend against lifting the ban during wartime.
"I don't want to lose any Marines to the distraction," Amos said then.
Robert Burns can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/robertburnsAP