WASHINGTON -- An internal Defense Department study has found that homosexuals do not pose a greater risk to national security than heterosexuals, a finding researchers say should call into question personnel policies that treat gays and lesbians as "a morally suspect class."
The study, prepared by the Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center, did not address the Pentagon's controversial policy prohibiting homosexuals from serving in the military, even though gay-rights advocates said the work would be valuable in their campaign to repeal the ban.
"It is essential for the public to see this report and decide for themselves whether it is sensible to continue to exclude lesbians and gay men from positions of service," Representative Gerry E. Studds, D-Mass., said Tuesday.
"Patriotism is not limited by someone's sexual orientation," he said. "The opportunity to serve our country in the armed forces or in sensitive positions likewise should not be."
Mr. Studds, who has publicly acknowledged his own homosexuality, began distributing the unclassified study, which has not yet been released officially by the Pentagon.
The unofficial release occurred as about 30 members of the Baltimore and Washington chapters of a national gay veterans group planned a two-day march beginning Saturday to Fort Meade, Andrews Air Force Base and the White House to protest the military's ban on homosexuals.
"All the Defense Department's left with is the 'foxhole theory' that homosexuals would break down esprit de corps," complained one of the organizers, Alan G. Stephens, a Baltimore schoolteacher and former U.S. Army intelligence officer in Germany. "That's hypocrisy. We've served with distinction."
The new study, written by Theodore R. Sarbin at the California-based defense center, reviewed about 100 books and academic journals and 117 espionage cases since 1945 and found "no basis for holding the belief that homosexuals as a group are less trustworthy or less patriotic than heterosexuals."
As potential blackmail targets, homosexuals "are no different from heterosexuals who fear exposure of adultery or other illegal or moral lapses," the study said.
"The review and analysis of the literature on homosexuality leads to one conclusion: Sexual orientation is unrelated to moral character," it added. "Both patriots and traitors are drawn from the class 'American citizen' and not specifically from the class 'heterosexual' or the class 'homosexual.' "
Under a long-standing Pentagon directive, homosexuality is considered "incompatible" with military service. The directive says that even the presence of soldiers who "demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission."
By comparison, federal employment regulations stipulate that civilians in the Defense Department, as well as the FBI and other sensitive agencies, cannot be barred from employment or security clearances solely because of their sexual preference.
On July 31, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told a congressional hearing that he "inherited" the military ban on homosexuals, suggesting he may not fully agree with it. But he also emphasized he had no plans to review or change the policy.