'Proceed cautiously' on ending military ban on homosexuals, Clinton advised

November 16, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

Congressional leaders are expressing apprehension about President-elect Bill Clinton's plans to lift the military's ban on homosexuals, urging him to move slowly or risk creating an uproar in Congress and the armed services.

"I think we ought to proceed very cautiously," Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"If you did it overnight, I'd fear for the lives of people in the military themselves," Mr. Nunn said, warning of possible violence against gays and lesbians in the service. "I think there could be some very emotional feelings. So I would prefer that it be stretched out over a period of time.

"We've got to consider not only the rights of homosexuals, but also the rights of those who are not homosexual and who give up a great deal of their privacy when they go in the military," said Mr. Nunn, who added that he agrees with the military's prohibition against homosexuals, which has been in effect in one form or another since World War II.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas also expressed concern about Mr. Clinton's intentions.

"I'd advise him to appoint a commission and study it. Mind you, he's going to get in more trouble than he can add up right now if he starts with an executive order on that issue. It will cause real problems in the military, and it seems to me that he'd be making a big mistake."

"He ought to put it on the back burner," Mr. Dole suggested. ". . .There are other things you can do by executive order that wouldn't blow the lid off the Capitol. I think this one might come close."

Last week, Mr. Clinton indicated that he does plan to appoint a panel to study the situation.

At the same time the president-elect is being pressured to move slowly or not at all on the issue, gays and lesbians have high expectations. Mr. Clinton's campaign vow to rescind the ban was one of several key pledges he made in courting the gay vote. If he drags his feet on the matter, he risks alienating a voting bloc that contributed generously to his campaign and overwhelmingly voted for the Democratic ticket.

But Senator Nunn is not the only influential Clinton supporter to oppose lifting the ban. Retired Navy Adm. William Crowe, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for five years during the Reagan and Bush administrations, has publicly and strongly expressed his disagreement with Mr. Clinton on the issue.

Mr. Crowe, who has said he would try to dissuade Mr. Clinton, was instrumental in garnering more than 20 endorsements for the Democrat from high-ranking active and retired military commanders -- at a time when President Bush, in the closing weeks of the campaign, questioned Mr. Clinton's ability to serve as commander-in-chief.

George Stephanopoulos, Mr. Clinton's assistant transition director for communications, characterized Mr. Nunn's remarks as "very strong."

He said Mr. Clinton intends to delay issuing an executive order because "we want to examine all the possible consequences of reversing the ban on homosexuals in the military . . . ."

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