The leaders of the Navy and Coast Guard, however, said they saw little problem and recommended the "don't ask, don't tell" policy be repealed.
The Senate Armed Services Committee conducted a second day of hearings on the Pentagon's report that recommended "don't ask, don't tell" be repealed. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told the panel Thursday they back repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians openly serving in the military.
While the survey provides useful information about attitudes and issues concerning the potential implementation of the repeal across the Marine Corps, it did not identify the risk to the force if it were undertaken while the Marines were engaged in combat, Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Amos said.
"Of particular concern to me is that roughly 56 percent of combat arms Marines voiced negative concerns," Amos told the committee. "These negative perceptions are held almost equally by all ranks within the combat arms communities."
If the policy were changed, "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 of preparing units for combat," Amos said.
He said a change could be implemented, but another question was whether it should be.
"Based on what I know about the very tough fight in Afghanistan" and the singular focus of the combat forces and their feedback, "my recommendation is that we should not implement repeal at this time," he said. "I ask for the opportunity to do it when my forces are not singularly focused on combat."
While saying he believes the "don't ask, don't tell" law should be repealed eventually, Army Gen. George Casey said he thought the risks of repealing "don't ask, don't tell" while combat troops are at war and stretched thin would be "more difficult for the Army than the report suggests."
Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz said he thought openly homosexual service members could be assimilated into the Air Force over time, and asked that if the law is repealed, the change not take effect before 2012.
"I agree with General Casey, that we should repeal the law at some point," Schwartz said, explaining that he didn't believe the short-term risk to military effectiveness would be low. "And I suggested that perhaps full implementation could occur in 2012. But I do not think it prudent to seek full implementation in the near term. I think that is too risky."
Navy Adm. Gary Roughead recommended the policy's appeal, saying he did not believe it would disrupt naval forces.
"I have the ultimate confidence in the men and women of the United States Navy, and in their character, in their discipline and in their decency," he said.
Coast Guard Adm. Robert Papp said he agreed with the report's recommendations on implementing the repeal of the current law.
"Allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve in the Coast Guard openly will remove a significant barrier to those Coast Guardsmen who are already serving capably and who have been forced to hide or even lie about their sexual orientation," Papp said. "Forcing these Coast Guardsmen to compromise our core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty and to continue to serve is a choice they should not have to make."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., again expressed concern lawmakers weren't given enough time to consider the impact of changing the law. On Thursday, he questioned whether the survey asked the right questions and expressed concern about the 28 percent response rate.