Canadian armed forces lift ban on homosexuals in the military

October 28, 1992|By Boston Globe

The Canadian military has announced that homosexuals will no longer be prohibited from serving in the armed forces, raising speculation that the U.S. military will come under increasing pressure to drop its ban against gay men and lesbians.

Yesterday's decision by Canada's Department of National Defense was prompted by a federal court ruling that its restriction against gays in the military violated Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, part of the nation's constitution.

Although U.S. courts have largely upheld the U.S. Defense Department's ban on homosexuals, many gay and lesbian activists said they are encouraged by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's promise that, as president, he would rescind the prohibition by executive order. Many activists predicted yesterday that the Canadian action would help defuse opposition to such an order.

"This is a major decision that will make it much easier for our military to change the policy when they recognize that most of our allies have openly gay and lesbian troops and there's no logic in continuing to discriminate," said Gregory King, communications director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a gay advocacy group in Washington that has lobbied against the military's prohibition. "We anticipate that a President Clinton will change the policy early on in his administration."

While legal specialists say the Canadian decision is unlikely to have any immediate impact on U.S. law, they speculated that it could reduce opposition to homosexuals in the service.

Laurence H. Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, said the Canadian decision "will have a psychological impact. The Canadian and American court systems do not interact, but they do peek with one eye at each other."

The challenge to the Canadian defense policy was brought by Michelle Douglas, 28, a lesbian who was forced to resign from the Canadian Air Force in 1989. The ruling came shortly before the matter was scheduled for trial in a Toronto courtroom.

In his ruling, Canadian federal Judge Andrew MacKay said that Ms. Douglas' rights had been denied and that the government's prohibition against homosexuals, and any related interim policies, "are contrary to the Charter."

In a June study by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the United States was named as one of only five countries, among 17 U.S. allies and NATO members, to prohibit homosexuals from the military. The other countries were the United Kingdom, Portugal, New Zealand and Canada.

The U.S. Defense Department's policy states that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service." The policy states that the presence of homosexuals could damage discipline and morale, interfere with the system of rank and command, and harm military security and recruitment.

A spokesman for the Defense Department would not comment on the Canadian action yesterday, saying, "We take no position on what the Canadians do or don't do."

Most opponents of the U.S. ban are pinning their hopes on a victory by Mr. Clinton, the only major presidential candidate who opposes the Defense Department prohibition. Mr. Clinton has repeatedly said it would be a waste of talent and resources to ban any person from government service because of sexual orientation.

President Bush has strongly supported the prohibition against gays in the military.

Ross Perot initially said it would not be "realistic" to allow gays to serve; he later issued a statement saying he opposed discrimination based on sexual orientation, but a spokesman said that in a Perot administration, the defense secretary would be charged with setting a policy on gays in the military.

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