Joint Chiefs' exclusion from hearing on gays angers some

March 28, 1993|By Cox News ServiceKnight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- When House hearings on the ban against homosexuals in the military begin this week, some high-profile witnesses -- the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who favor keeping the ban -- will be missing.

The only active uniformed witness scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee is Petty Officer Keith Meinhold, who was recently discharged from the Navy because he is gay. A federal judge later ordered the Navy to reinstate Petty Officer Meinhold.

The decision to exclude the Joint Chiefs was made by the committee chairman, Ronald V. Dellums, a California Democrat whom many in the military view warily. The exclusion of the Joint Chiefs has angered Republicans who oppose President Clinton's proposal to lift the ban by July 15.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat, also plans hearings, beginning tomorrow. Mr. Nunn opposes lifting the ban, and a Nunn aide said that active-duty military personnel are expected to testify before Mr. Nunn's committee.

For 50 years, the ban has barred homosexuals from the military. Each year, hundreds of service men and women are discharged involuntarily.

"The only issue before the committee is what would the impact of this order be on our military," said Rep. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.

"I know of no one better than active-duty personnel, starting with the Joint Chiefs, to testify," he said.

A Dellums aide, who declined to be named, acknowledged that Petty Officer Meinhold is the only active military person scheduled to testify but said that retired officers, including Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, will adequately represent the views of service members.

Military personnel opposed to Mr. Clinton's proposal would be "put on the spot," Mr. Dellums' aide said, if asked to testify against the wishes of Mr. Clinton. "Their job is to support the commander in chief," the aide said.

The Joint Chiefs, including the chairman, Gen. Colin L. Powell, want to testify before the House committee, according to an aide who declined to be named. The aide expressed hope that the decision might be changed. A recent poll indicated that 74 percent of enlisted military personnel favor the ban.

Mr. Kyl and Rep. Floyd D. Spence of South Carolina, the senior Republican on the full House committee, met with Mr. Dellums last week to complain about the failure to ask active military personnel to testify.

Groups speaking in favor of religion and family values will testify against lifting the ban, according to the witness list for the House hearing. Supporting the change, in addition to Petty Officer Meinhold, will be heterosexual retired officers, a gay rights group and a religious group.

On Tuesday, Mr. Clinton triggered a furor by suggesting that if acknowledged homosexuals were eventually admitted into the military, he might favor barring them from combat and some other duties.

Later, Mr. Clinton and White House aides insisted that the president meant to say only that he would consider whatever recommendation the military gave him.

On Friday, Clinton aides met with gay-rights leaders, who suggested that Mr. Clinton take part in an April 24 gay-rights march in Washington to demonstrate solidarity with homosexuals. There was no decision on whether Mr. Clinton would join the march.

HEARINGS

WHAT: Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on homosexuals in the military.

WHEN: 9:30 a.m. EST Monday and Wednesday.

WHY: President Clinton has announced his intention to issue an executive order lifting the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. Some lawmakers may try to write the ban into law.

TELEVISION: C-SPAN plans live coverage of Monday's hearing from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., when the Senate will be in session.

HOUSE: Plans hearings later.

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