DALLAS -- Reversing a position that has made him the focal point of protests from groups representing homosexuals, Ross Perot said this week that he would not necessarily exclude someone from a Cabinet position on the basis of sexual orientation.
At the same time, Mr. Perot did not change his stance on homosexuals serving in the military.
In a statement sent to representatives of gay-rights organizations, Mr. Perot said that he has always opposed discrimination based on race, sex, religion or sexual preference and that he would adopt the same position as president.
"I have always prohibited discrimination in my businesses and have no intention of changing that policy," Mr. Perot said in the statement.
"If elected president, my policy for the nation will be that each person shall be judged on merit, and any discrimination based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation will not be tolerated. What people do in their private lives is their own business."
Some representatives of gay-rights groups said the statement indicated a commitment to end discrimination in every facet of the federal government, including the military. But aides to Mr. Perot said that he had not yet decided that he would end the Pentagon's policy of refusing to allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the armed forces.
Mr. Perot's statement appears to be the culmination of his attempts to defuse the criticism that greeted comments he made in a May 29 broadcast of the ABC television program "20/20."
Responding to questions from Barbara Walters, Mr. Perot said ++ he would not appoint homosexuals to Cabinet positions because "I don't want anybody there that will be a point of controversy with the American people." He added, "It will distract from the work to be done."
Mr. Perot's comments on the show, which aides have long
insisted were taken out of context, earned him the enmity of groups representing gay men and lesbians. The Texas billionaire has been hounded at several campaign rallies by gay-rights advocates.
Last week, three men from Act Up, a gay-rights organization, briefly took over the stage of a rally held on the Capitol steps in Olympia, Wash.
Since the "20/20" broadcast, Mr. Perot or his aides have been meeting with gay-rights groups seeking ways to defuse the issue. The latest meeting was Tuesday when Mr. Perot met in Dallas with 12 representatives of groups advocating an end to discrimination against homosexuals.
"What he is saying is he would appoint people based on their qualifications and who they were, irrespective of anything such as race, religion or sexual orientation," said Morton Meyerson, a senior adviser.