Ban on gays in military to be lifted, officials say Two-step process devised to buy time INAUGURATION 1993

January 21, 1993|By Eric Schmitt | Eric Schmitt,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton plans to direct Defense Secretary Les Aspin to prepare an executive order that would lift the ban on homosexuals in the military sometime in the next few months, Clinton aides said yesterday.

In the meantime, the military will be directed less formally to stop asking recruits about their sexual orientation and discharging people from the armed services when they are found to be homosexuals. These are the two points that would be the main practical effects once an executive order is in place.

Mr. Clinton is expected to announce his new policy in the next few days, officials said.

The two-step process buys the Clinton administration time to consult with senior military leaders on the details of the policy, while at the same time fulfilling a campaign pledge Mr. Clinton made to repeal the ban with an executive order.

Under intense pressure from the military to back off that commitment, Clinton's aides had been considering a plan to lift the ban without a presidential order. Gay-rights advocates vigorously protested, contending that delegating the repeal to the secretary of defense would weaken the symbolic import of the move and undermine Mr. Clinton's campaign promise.

The new, tougher compromise was worked out by Mr. Aspin and his top aides in recent days and approved Sunday night at a meeting between Mr. Clinton and his senior national security advisers at Blair House in Washington.

Gay-rights groups applauded the plan yesterday. Two gay lawmakers, Rep. Gerry E. Studds and Rep. Barney Frank, both Democrats of Massachusetts, were consulted this week, and they approved.

Military officials said they were pleased that they would still get to have some say on how the change would occur.

"I'm tentatively optimistic," said Thomas B. Stoddard, a gay civil rights lawyer in New York and a former executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "But we must be wary and be able to participate in the process of working out all the issues connected to the elimination of the ban on gay people."

Although top Pentagon officials acknowledge that thousands of gay men and lesbians serve in the 1.8-million-member military, senior officers such as Gen. Colin L. Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have consistently opposed lifting the ban.

The general has said that it "would be prejudicial to good order and discipline."

General Powell met with Mr. Clinton on Sunday night and with Mr. Aspin several times in recent days, most recently on Tuesday. It is not clear whether Mr. Aspin briefed General Powell on the administration's plan during their latest meeting.

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