Clinton's Compromise on Gays

January 30, 1993

Clearly President Clinton hopes his compromise on the ban of gays in the military will put this issue behind him for the time being. We hope so, too. This has been Topic A -- and Topic B and Topic C -- all week. It is an absurd distortion of priorities for the White House, the Pentagon, Congress and Main Street. This is not the most important issue for the military; it is not the most important issue for the nation's gays; it is not even the most important issue for gays in the military, and it is certainly not the most important issue for everybody else.

The focus on this matter in the past week has been laser-like. Outside the Capital Beltway it has been a subject of intense debate, overshadowing tomorrow's Super Bowl. In the White House the president has spent hours discussing the issue with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, key senators and his own advisers. The White House phone lines have been jammed with calls about the issue. So have the Capitol's: 400,000 calls on Wednesday alone. This is gridlock of another kind.

The president's announcement yesterday seemed to say he will revoke the Defense Department's ban on homosexuals in the military, but not until July 15, after an investigation of the issue by Congress. That alone is something of a step back for him, and he is to be applauded for a gesture of compromise and comity. But he went even further. He implied, at least, that while he believes strongly he is right on this issue -- and we agree that he is -- he is maintaining an open mind. "I don't expect to change my position," he said. That is different than, "I won't change my position."

We urge Republicans on the Hill who are threatening to fight this out right now to back off. They should follow Sen. Sam Nunn's example. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who will chair the hearings and who opposes lifting the ban, says, "We have to listen to other points of view." Republican talk of pushing for pro-ban legislation is an exercise in posturing -- and pandering. The time to debate and vote on such legislation is after the congressional hearings, as Mr. Clinton's July 15 target date approaches.

By then, in addition to the arguments made at the hearings, a ruling by a federal judge that the ban against gays in the military is unconstitutional will have been thoroughly studied for its implications. And a special Senate election in Texas, where the ban has already become an issue, will have been held and studied for its implications.

Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the economy, the deficit and health care. Those are the real Topics A, B and C.

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