End GI gay bias quickly, Clinton reportedly is told Advisers urge action, not just a study

'memo of instruction' seems favored

January 08, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Bill Clinton's top advisers are recommending that he sweep away the nation's long-standing prohibition against gays in the military by issuing an immediate and unequivocal ban on discrimination instead of finessing the explosive issue by ordering further study, according to knowledgeable sources.

That recommendation, if accepted, would cap a debate that has raged for weeks over whether Mr. Clinton should end such discrimination "with the stroke of a pen" or compromise by yielding to military concerns and ordering further study before acting.

Aides said that consultations with the military are continuing and a for mal recommendation is expected to go to Mr. Clinton next week, allowing him to issue his directive within the first two weeks of his presidency.

The directive would be issued in a "memorandum of instruction" to the secretary of defense. It would require the military to halt investigations and disciplinary actions against gays and to stop asking service members and enlistees about their sexual orientation.

But it would leave unresolved many standards of conduct that apply to gay and lesbian service members. While openly gay and lesbian military personnel no longer could be discharged on the basis of sexual preference alone, military officials probably would be permitted to define the limits of acceptable behavior by homosexuals while on military installations and while performing their duties.

Under a memorandum of instruction, the new secretary of defense -- Mr. Clinton has nominated Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis. -- would oversee such decisions as whether the military should extend dependent benefits to the homosexual partners of service members and whether gay social clubs should be permitted to function on U.S. bases.

Other issues left to the defense secretary and military leaders would include whether homosexual personnel should be permitted to express their sexual preferences openly under circumstances that could be regarded as disruptive and whether gay or lesbian service members would be permitted to live together in base housing.

The military has strict regulations about sexual behavior among its members who work together. Mr. Clinton has said that those rules would continue to apply to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.

For Mr. Clinton, adoption of the recommendation would represent a compromise between military leaders, who have protested lifting the ban, and gay and lesbian activists. Those activists are hoping that Mr. Clinton will lift the ban by issuing an executive order -- the vehicle presidents traditionally use for bold, historic action. President Harry Truman, for instance, issued an executive order to racially integrate the military services.

Clinton advisers, however, favor using a new, less symbolic mechanism to lift the ban. A "memorandum of instruction" has the same legal force as an executive order, they said, but does not carry with it the same historic significance.

They view the distinction as important because they believe that the action will bring strong opposition from military leaders, which they hope to mute to some extent by avoiding use of an executive order.

Transition aides also hope to shield Mr. Clinton from military and congressional reaction by using language in the memorandum that specifically directs Mr. Aspin to carry out the task of lifting the ban, rather than simply proclaiming the president's order to lift it.

"Clinton understands there are two issues here: He can't waffle and he doesn't want to expend a lot of political good will up front on this issue," said one adviser to the Mr. Clinton transition team. "What they're trying to do is find the best mechanism to achieve the commitment and not hurt him."

Knowledgeable sources said that the concept of using a memorandum of instruction to lift the ban is the brainchild of Clinton friend John Holum, a Washington attorney who was asked to review the president-elect's options on the issue.

Mr. Holum and Mr. Aspin are expected to discuss the proposal in the next several days, along with several other options that Mr. Holum considers less advisable politically. One of those lesser options, said knowledgeable sources, would be for Mr. Clinton to issue an executive order.

A memorandum of instruction, the sources said, would definitively rule out establishing a commission to study the issue, a step that many gay and lesbian activists oppose as a stalling tactic. Many senior military leaders have informally suggested creating such a commission.

Other Clinton advisers said that the memo of instruction is a way to move swiftly to change the policy without excluding the possibility of an executive order later, after civilian defense officials and military leaders had reviewed the matter.

"The policy will be lifted early and I don't think Bill Clinton . . . is backing off one bit," said one activist working with a gay and lesbian interest group. "I feel very good about where things are right now.

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