Clinton staff, military focus on gay issue

November 13, 1992|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Bill Clinton and his transition team are starting to consider several ways to end the nation's long exclusion of homosexuals from the armed services in a tricky attempt to deliver on a campaign promise without causing severe disruptions in the military.

Some military leaders, meanwhile, are now beginning to anticipate the possible impact of such a fundamental change in the military culture, despite official Pentagon pronouncements that no one is engaged in any contingency planning.

At the Pentagon, a meeting of several senior Army officers may be convened today to begin sorting out issues that must be addressed before gay men and women are fully integrated into the ranks, two likely participants said. They also want to discuss how to prepare for the Clinton transition and news media coverage of likely changes in Army life.

"There's a lot of angst among the troops," said an Army general who plans to attend the meeting, referring to the possibility not only of allowing homosexuals into the military but also of accelerating cuts in active-duty personnel.

Although Mr. Clinton has repeatedly vowed to open the military to homosexuals and reaffirmed that pledge yesterday, he has suggested that he would not require abrupt, wholesale changes in military operations to accommodate a homosexual lifestyle, other than the immediate suspension of all moves to discharge gay men and women from the ranks.

He also has hinted that he may not act as swiftly after his inauguration as some gay activists believe.

"My concern here is to do it in a way that is most appropriate for the management of the whole national security and military interests of the country," Mr. Clinton said yesterday. Only the day before, he had tempered his pledge by saying: "I think there are ways that we can deal with this that will increase the comfort level of a lot of military folks."

Sharp distinction

At his news conference yesterday, he drew a sharp distinction between a soldier's sexual preference and his or her sexual behavior while on duty. He suggested that any sexual misconduct -- whether suggestive remarks or advances by homosexuals or heterosexuals to their fellow soldiers -- would be wholly unacceptable under his new policy.

Several people familiar with how Mr. Clinton's top policy advisers are dealing with the issue said they are at the earliest stage of considering how to repeal the homosexual ban and are receiving many unsolicited ideas. But advocates of the policy change and other insiders noted that retired Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a close adviser who opposes the repeal of the ban, already seems to have influenced Mr. Clinton's current thinking on the issue.

Mr. Clinton himself has said he wants to discuss "the mechanics" of a policy change with military leaders, but no meeting has been arranged yet. Yesterday, he said he would consult "with a lot of people about what our options are -- including people who may disagree with me about the ultimate merits."

The policy barring homosexuals from the military, which dates back to World War II and was last revised in 1986, has resulted in the discharge of 16,919 servicemen and women from 1980 through 1990 -- or roughly 1,500 a year, according to Pentagon statistics. Most federal courts have upheld the right of the military to set such a policy, which makes no allowance for exemplary service records or medals for combat heroism.

1986 Pentagon directive

The 1986 Pentagon directive declares that homosexuality is "incompatible" with military service. The directive says the presence of soldiers who "demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission."

Their presence "adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order and morale . . . and to prevent breaches of security," the directive says.

Among major western powers, only the United States, Britain and Portugal exclude homosexuals from the military service, although Belgium, Finland, France and Germany impose certain restrictions, such as excluding gays from officer ranks, recruitment and training jobs or access to secret documents, the General Accounting Office reported this summer.

Contributing to the Clinton policy-making process is a group of about eight lawyers, some of them self-styled gay activists, who are completing the last of several drafts of an executive order that would promptly repeal the current ban and create a $H presidential committee to oversee the implementation of the new policy.

The group, which plans a conference call today to finish its work, is recommending that action be taken 10 days to two weeks after Mr. Clinton takes office.

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