WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged the Senate Tuesday to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy so the change could be implemented at a measured pace.
The report provides "a solid road map" to implement repeal of the military policy barring gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military and indicated the change wouldn't harm military readiness because the proper groundwork would be laid first, Gates said.
If "don't ask, don't tell" is struck down through the courts, it could be imposed immediately "by judicial fiat," Gates said during a news conference, "by far the most disruptive and damaging (scenario) that I can imagine."
"I strongly urge the Senate to pass this legislation (repealing 'don't ask, don't tell') and send it to the president before the end of the year," Gates said. "I believe it is a matter of some urgency because the federal courts are beginning to be increasingly involved in this issue."
Should Congress repeal the law, the military would need an undetermined amount of time to prepare for implementing the change, Gates said.
"What we are asking for is time subsequent (to the repeal) to prepare adequately before the before the change is implemented," Gates said. "How long that will take, I don't know."
Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also endorsed the report, saying it was the first "truly comprehensive assessment" of a military policy that also provided a road map for implementation across the military services.
Mullen said it was noteworthy that the report found "strong leadership to be the single most important factor in implementing a repeal. This is a key point."
Mullen said he also heard "loud and clear" that the troops expected the Pentagon to maintain high standards of conduct.
Also, "however low the overall risk of repeal may be, it is not without its challenging," Mullen said, saying military leaders wanted to manage the implementation process.
"I share the secretary's desire that it come about through legislation," not the courts, Mullen said.
Included in the report are results of a survey sent to 400,000 service members that indicated 69 percent of those responded said they had served with someone they believed to be gay or lesbian, The Washington Post reported. Of those who did, 92 percent said their unit's ability to work together was very good, good, or neither good nor poor, sources who had been briefed on the report said.
Combat units had similar responses, the Pentagon's report said, with 89 percent of Army combat units and 84 percent of Marine combat units saying they had good or neutral experiences working with gays.
The report also found that 30 percent of those surveyed overall -- and between 40 and 60 percent of the Marines -- either expressed concern or predicted a negative reaction if Congress repeals the "don't ask, don't tell" law that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled hearings Thursday and Friday. A member of the committee is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has criticized the report, saying it should have asked whether a policy change was the right thing to do, instead of how a change should be implemented.
As congressional hearing on the report and the repeal gear up, Gates asked opponents to "resist the urge to lure our troops and their families into the politics of this issue."