Exemplary Marine loses a bid to stay in service

April 01, 1993|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Staff Writer

JACKSON, N.C. — JACKSONVILLE, N.C. -- By all accounts, Sgt. Justin C. Elzie exemplifies the highest tradition of the United States Marine Corps. Yesterday he asked the corps not to go against its tradition of never abandoning "a good Marine," but they turned down his plea.

An administrative board of his peers recommended that Sergeant Elzie be discharged because he is homosexual.

As congressional hearings continued in Washington on President Clinton's proposal to lift a ban on gays in the military, a five-member board here at Camp Lejeune decided that Sergeant Elzie, as an admitted homosexual, seriously "affects the good order and discipline" of the Marine Corps.

Acknowledging the 30-year-old Marine's record, the board also recommended Sergeant Elzie be honorably discharged.

As the panel's recommendation works its way through the chain of command to the secretary of the Navy, who could accept or reject the recommendation, the Marine will return to his job as a supply clerk at Camp Lejeune.

Even though the military is not asking recruits their sexual orientation while the lifting of the ban is being studied, proceedings against personnel who have admitted homosexuality or are accused of engaging in such conduct are going ahead.

It was the president's decision to lift the ban that prompted Sergeant Elzie on Jan. 29 to publicly support the commander in chief and -- at the same time -- declare his sexual orientation on national television. Twelve days later, Sergeant Elzie's commanding officer began proceedings to oust him.

If the ban is lifted, Sergeant Elzie will be able to stay in the Marines.

If it is not, he will have sacrificed a career he says he wants to continue "with pride and without any hint of shame."

Although disappointed by the board's decision, Sergeant Elzie said 6l later that he would "continue to push forward and march on."

He also said that he hoped President Clinton "sticks by his principle" and would lift the ban.

"I do not believe that my sexual status is pertinent to my performance as a Marine," Sergeant Elzie said during his hearing yesterday. "The Marine Corps . . . never abandons a good Marine or leaves one behind. I believe that I possess and have demonstrated the qualities of a good Marine."

Maj. Robert E. Breckenridge, who presented the military's case, used Sergeant Elzie's own words in television interviews to prove he violated the military's prohibition against homosexuality. In Sergeant Elzie's defense, his lawyers called witnesses, read letters of recommendation and presented volumes of documents -- psychological research, Department of Defense studies, even the Marine Corps' own definition of homosexuality -- to show why their client should remain in the service.

Service personnel and civilians alike described the trim, red-haired sergeant to the hearing board as a "a model Marine," an "outstanding" professional, exhibiting exemplary conduct, a leader who served two tours of duty as an embassy guard in 1989 and was voted Marine of the year by his battalion commander and hundreds of colleagues in Okinawa, "the finest of a fine tradition."

But questions from members of the board indicated that what mattered was whether his admission of homosexuality violated Marine policy.

Sergeant Elzie's lawyers argued that the Marines had to prove, under their definition of homosexuality, that he "engages in, desires to engage in or intends to engage in homosexual acts."

"There is no evidence of that," said Lanny A. Breuer, a Washington attorney.

But Major Breckenridge countered: "If you are willing to admit that you are a homosexual, then you are someone, who at the very least, desires to engage in sexual relations with someone of the same gender."

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