New Rules for Gay GIs

December 30, 1993

The Pentagon's new rules and regulations for gays in the military fall far short of what candidate Bill Clinton promised, but they are not nearly as repressive as the statute would allow. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin says the rules represent "the middle ground." That is a good way to put it. The Army is supposed to "take the high ground and hold it," as an infantry song goes, but that was simply politically and militarily (x impossible in this situation at this time.

The policy President Clinton and the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed on was summarized as "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue." Homosexual service members were largely free to live as they chose if they remained discreet. Congress de-emphasized "don't pursue," leading many fair-minded people to fear that under the new law bigoted or misguided commanders and investigators would continue the witch hunts of old. The new rules and regulations, as explained in detail in a new training document, put the "don't pursue" back in the equation.

Leaders of the gay rights movement say the policy is still unfair. They say it is unconstitutional and will challenge it in the courts. That it is unfair is beyond doubt. (But think how much fairer it is than what would be in place if Bill Clinton had not been elected.) That the policy is unconstitutional is probably not true. It is conduct-oriented, not status-oriented. The Supreme Court has consistently respected the need of the military to impose rules of conduct that would be unacceptable elsewhere. We would be surprised if it now decided to throw out rules that the president, the military leadership and Congress all agreed upon.

We would not be surprised if federal judges threw out individual homosexual discharges whenever commanders violated the spirit of the new rules. The knowledge that courts are looking over their shoulders should deter would-be witch hunters. So should something else. Secretary Aspin said, "attitudes on this issue have changed a lot in the last four or five years. Presumably that change has not stopped. And if [more] changes occur, I would anticipate that further changes might occur in the military." So would we. The military has demonstrated before that it will alter its ways in the wake of significant changes inside and outside its own culture and social order.

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