Mystery memo offering compromise on gays in military is making rounds

June 23, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has reaffirmed his commitment to lifting the ban on gays in the military, but did not reject a proposal from a leaked Pentagon document calling for a compromise that would discharge gays if they acknowledge their homosexuality.

Asked yesterday if he had changed his mind on what he would like to see, Mr. Clinton said, "No, I haven't."

The president, now just three weeks from a final decision on the issue, said he wanted to withhold further comment until he receives a final report from Defense Secretary Les Aspin, who is reviewing the ban and consulting with military officials about its effect.

But the memo nonetheless has emerged as a tool in the search for a consensus on the politically explosive issue. It is being used to test opinions in congressional and military circles, one senior defense official said.

"This is the body of work to which people are reacting one way or another," said the official. "We are trying to find the position that a sufficient number of people can hold to put together a coalition of people that will work."

The Pentagon yesterday distanced itself from the leaked document, a draft memorandum that defense officials insisted Mr. Aspin had not seen before it began circulating.

Defense officials said Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., a leading supporter of the ban, was briefed last Friday on the contents of the memo. Mr. Nunn declared yesterday that "there has been no official sign-off on it by anyone, including the secretary, or the president, or anyone else."

The document, which sources said was drafted by a military working group advising Mr. Aspin on the issue, recommended discontinuing the practice of asking incoming service members their sexual orientation. Once in, however, those who openly acknowledged their homosexuality would continue to be put out of the service.

The memo recommended discharges for homosexual conduct, which was defined as "engaging in homosexual acts; stating they are homosexual or bisexual; or marrying or attempting to marry persons of the same sex."

In addition, the June 17 memorandum -- parts of which were published in the Washington Times -- adopts as a "general principle" that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service."

The newspaper said the memo had been drafted by Mr. Aspin, a claim Aspin spokesman Vernon Guidry called "flatly wrong." But Pentagon officials did not dispute that the memorandum exists or that it represents one of the final products of the months-long review.

The thrust of the memo is very similar to a compromise proposal championed by Mr. Nunn since January, when the administration first moved to lift the military ban on homosexuals. Mr. Nunn's compromise, widely known as "don't ask/don't tell," has won wide support among fellow lawmakers as well among senior military officers.

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