Q My name is Keith Kerr, from Santa Rosa, California. I’m retired brigadier general with 43 years of service, and I’m a graduate of the Special Forces Officer Course, the Command and General Staff Course, and the Army War College. And I’m an openly gay man.
I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.
Duncan Hunter’s response:
MR. COOPER: I want to point out that Brigadier General Keith Kerr is here with us tonight. Glad you’re here. (Applause.)
I’ll give the question to Congressman Hunter.
REP. HUNTER: Yeah. General, General, thanks for your service, but I believe in what Colin Powell said when he said that having openly homosexual people serving in the ranks would be bad for unit cohesion. And the reason for that — even though people point to the Israelis and point to the Brits and point to other people as having homosexuals serve, is that most Americans, most kids who leave that — that breakfast table and go and serve in the military and make that corporate decision with their family — most of them are conservatives. And they have conservative values, and they have Judeo-Christian values. And to force those people to work in a small, tight unit with somebody who is homoment (sic) — openly homosexual goes against what they believe to be their principles — and it is their principles — is, I think, a disservice to them. And I — I agree with Colin Powell that it would be bad for unit cohesion. (Applause.)
MR. COOPER: I want to direct that to Governor Huckabee. Thirty seconds.
MR. HUCKABEE: The Uniform Code of Military Justice is probably the best rule, and it has to do with conduct. People have a right to have whatever feelings, whatever attitudes they wish.
But when their conduct could put at risk the morale or put at risk even the cohesion that Duncan Hunter spoke of, I think that’s what is at issue, and that’s why our policy is what it is.
MR. COOPER: Governor Romney, you said in 1994 that you looked forward to the day when gays and lesbians could serve, and I quote, “openly and honestly” in our nation’s military. Do you stand by that?
MR. ROMNEY: This isn’t that time. This is not that time. We’re in a middle of a war. The people who have watched —
MR. COOPER: Do you look forward to that time, though, one day?
MR. ROMNEY: I’m going to listen to the people who run the military to see what the circumstances are like. And my view is that at this stage this is not the time for us to make that kind of a change.
MR. COOPER: Is there a change in your position from 1994?
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would work. That was my — I didn’t think that would work. I thought that was a policy — when I heard about it, I laughed. I said that doesn’t make any sense to me. And you know what? It’s been there now for what, 15 years? Seems to have worked.
MR. COOPER: So just on clear — at this point, do you still look forward to a day when gays can serve openly in the military, or no longer?
MR. ROMNEY: I look forward to hearing from the military exactly what they believe is the right way to have the right kind of cohesion and support in our — in our troops, and I’ll listen to what they have to say. (Boos.)
MR. COOPER: All right.
General Kerr is, as I said, is here. Please stand up, General. Thank you very much for being with us. Do you feel you got an answer to your question?
GEN. KERR: With all due respect, I did not get an answer from the candidates. (Applause.)
MR. COOPER: What do you — what do you feel you got?
GEN. KERR: American — American men and women in the military are professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians. For 42 years, I wore the Army uniform on active duty, in the Reserve, and also for the state of California. I revealed I was a gay man after I retired. Today, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is destructive to our military policy. Every — every day, the Department of Defense discharges two people not for misconduct, not for the unit cohesion — (mike cuts off).
MR. COOPER: The mike is — you’ve lost the — is the microphone not working? All right. Please, just finish your — finish your — what is your —
GEN. KERR: Not for the unit cohesion that Congressman Hunter is talking about, but simply because they happen to be gay.
MR. COOPER: Okay. Senator McCain —
GEN. KERR: And we’re talking about doctors, nurses, pilots, and the surgeon who sews — (boos) — sews somebody up when they’re taken from the battlefield.
MR. COOPER: I appreciate your comment.
Senator McCain, I want to give you 30 seconds. You served in the military. (Applause.)
SEN. MCCAIN: General, I thank you for your service to our nation. I respect it.
All the time I talk to our military leaders, beginning with our Joint Chiefs of Staff and leaders in the field such as General Petraeus and General Odierno and others who are designated leaders with the responsibility of the safety of the men and women under their command and their security and protect them as best they can. Almost unanimously, they tell me that this present policy is working, that we have the best military in history, we have the bravest, most professional —
MR. COOPER: Time.
SEN. MCCAIN: — best-prepared, and that this policy ought to be continued because it’s working.