Gays-in-the-Military Grenade

April 11, 1993

Sen. Sam Nunn has thrown himself on the gays-in-the-military grenade and, as one close follower of his committee's hearings has put it, "muffled" the issue. He has done that by bringing before the Senate Armed Services Committee some very scholarly -- you might say boring -- witnesses to testify about the proposal to lift the Pentagon's ban on homosexuals in the uniformed services.

Also, Chairman Nunn announced that the current temporary policy, worked out between him and the president in January, is "rather a good place to be, [and] it may be a pretty good place to end up." Their compromise has been called "don't ask, don't tell." It says that for now, military commanders won't ask new recruits or veterans about their sexual preferences, and gays in the military won't announce their orientation.

Senator Nunn apparently would accept as permanent a deal that was only meant to be temporary. But real compromise comes after, not before, all the arguments are heard.

Falling on a grenade is not the same thing as disabling one. The explosion hasn't occurred yet, but it is likely to come. One side sees this as only a civil rights issue and the other side sees it as only a unit-cohesion issue. As long as one side says all that matters is the best interest of an individual, and the other side says all that matters is the best interest of the group, there will be no closure.

The only possibility for a resolution that will not blow up into an acrimonious debate is to maximize individual rights without making it impossible for military units to carry out their missions BTC -- and to make it clear to all concerned that that has been done and that every avenue leading to an acceptable compromise has been explored.

It doesn't help to vilify every compromise suggestion offered in good faith -- even the very dumb suggestions. President Clinton's assertion that he "wouldn't rule out" limiting some service assignments and units to non-gays was probably dumb, but it hardly justified some of the very harsh denunciations from both sides that followed.

Our own view, stated here before, is that flatly lifting the ban tomorrow probably would not impair the ability of the armed services to defend the nation's interests. But we will wait for all the returns to come in before deciding what we believe the general policy should be.

) So should everybody else.

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