Panel votes to tighten gay policy Bill would allow quizzing recruits on their sexuality

July 24, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Washington -- The Senate Armed Services Committee endorsed yesterday President Clinton's new policy to allow homosexuals to serve in the military, but the panel added a provision that would allow the defense secretary to restore the practice of asking recruits about their sexuality if the Pentagon believes it is necessary to maintain combat readiness.

Pentagon officials said the provision was only congressional guidance, not binding language, and did not substantively alter the administration's plan.

Mr. Clinton had wanted to keep his policy in regulation form, which allows the executive branch greater flexibility to make future changes.

But Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., who heads the committee, said that writing the policy into law would strengthen its defense against court challenges.

The committee approved codification of the policy by a vote of 17 to 5, with all 10 Republicans voting for it.

Voting against the policy were five Democratic senators -- Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Carl Levin of Michigan, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Charles S. Robb of Virginia and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

tTC Administration officials said yesterday that Mr. Clinton and Defense Secretary Les Aspin were satisfied with the Senate version of the plan.

Mr. Clinton's new policy modifies the current ban to allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the military, but only if they keep their sexual orientation private.

The Pentagon will no longer ask service members their sexual status and will set strict thresholds before commanders can order an inquiry into suspected homosexuality.

Debate on the issue shifts next week to the House of Representatives, where the House Armed Services Committee will consider writing Mr. Clinton's plan into its military spending plan.

The full Senate is expected to consider the military budget bill, which includes the provision on homosexuals in the armed forces, before leaving for summer recess on Aug. 9.

It is unclear whether the full House will have time to do the same before the break.

The Senate committee's military budget bill authorized a $262 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, $1 billion less than what Clinton had requested. A separate appropriations bill will be considered later this summer.

The bill rejected Clinton's call for an across-the-board pay freeze in the armed forces, granting military members a 2.2 percent pay increase that will take effect Jan. 1. Lawmakers, concerned with the emotional disruption in the shrinking armed forces, decided that a pay cut now would be too much of a burden for service members.

Backing up Mr. Aspin's decision this year to broaden the role of women in combat, the bill would repeal the law prohibiting the permanent assignment of women to Navy combat ships.

The Senate panel also slashed the administration's request for the Ballistic Missile Defense, formerly known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, to $3.2 billion from $3.8 billion.

The panel also voted to cancel the Navy's AX attack plane and the Air Force's multirole fighter jet.

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