Rep. Barney Frank's proposed compromise on the military's ban on gays seems to us close enough to Sen. Sam Nunn's that they should not be fighting each other over the issue but resolving the details. And President Clinton should be willing to go along.
Senator Nunn, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, calls his approach "don't ask, don't tell." Homosexuality would still be a cause for discharge, but the armed forces would not ask new recruits or veteran servicemen and servicewomen about their sexual orientation, and homosexuals would not volunteer the information.
Representative Frank suggests that homosexual behavior not be a grounds for discharge as long as it was private and off-duty. He calls it "don't ask, don't tell, don't listen and don't investigate."
Here is how he explains his idea: "The problem has been historically people have gotten kicked out because after hours they have been seen with a lover of the same sex, they've been in a bar, they've been snooped upon. Let's make it very clear that if you are willing to make the sacrifice of not talking about or expressing your sexuality while you're on duty in a uniform -- which I don't think most people are looking to do -- off duty you can live a normal life, you can socialize, you can express your sexual orientation and suffer no penalty for it."
The Frank proposal is somewhat closer to the Nunn idea than to the original Clinton proposal -- a flat lifting of the ban. The Frank proposal is also very similar to a proposal made by Northwestern University sociologist Charles Moskos. He called it "don't seek, don't flaunt." Professor Moskos is one of the nation's leading experts on military life. He is something of a conservative. His views should carry weight with the Nunn supporters, even if not with Senator Nunn, himself. But Representative Frank's views should carry even greater weight with the gay community, civil libertarians, others supporting President Clinton, and those in between Senator Nunn and President Clinton who want this issue honorably, wisely resolved.
The military should be composed of individuals who, regardless of sexual orientation, can best perform their duties. The best way to achieve that goal is to lift the ban, period. Inappropriate conduct that compromised performance of duty by individuals or units could still be punished. On the basis of the Senate hearings to date and other comments, we believe that lifting the ban on gays would not affect readiness.
But reality dictates a compromise, and the Frank proposal is the best compromise in sight.