Military gay ban ruling may trump Clinton effort



WASHINGTON -- The decision of a federal judge reinstating a woman officer in the Washington State National Guard thrown out after having identified herself as a lesbian raises an interesting political question concerning President Clinton:

Would he, and the cause of gay and lesbian rights, have been TC just as well-served had he never made his controversial effort to end discrimination against homosexuals in the military?

The judge, in ruling that any such prohibition on military service is "grounded solely in prejudice" and hence unconstitutional, suggests that the Clinton compromise torturously worked out with Congress last summer will prove to have been an unnecessary exercise.

If so, from a purely self-serving viewpoint, the president might have saved himself a lot of political grief had he simply let the old flat prohibition stand until the courts acted, rather than support the "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy.

Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, one of only two openly gay members of Congress, says the court ruling would have come whether Clinton had tried to confront the issue or not. He notes that a somewhat similar ruling in another case in December 1992 had been made before Clinton said he would outlaw such discrimination -- and ignited a political firestorm in the process.

At the same time, Frank and other important voices in the gay and lesbian community say that Clinton --in speaking out when he did and in numerous executive actions he has taken to end discrimination against homosexuals in other areas of federal government service -- has greatly advanced the cause of equal rights for gays and lesbians.

As a result, they say, although Clinton was widely criticized within that community for compromising on his original blanket call for ending the ban on gays in the military, he would receive overwhelming support from it if he were up for re-election today.

Tanya Domi, legislative director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, says the vote for Clinton among homosexuals probably would not be as substantial as it was in 1992, but would still be strong. And Frank says the fact that the GOP has become more stridently anti-gay would work in Clinton's favor.

/# David Mixner, an old Clinton po

litical ally who is now a gay activist and who broke with his old friend over the gays-in-the-military issue, credits the president with helping to create a public climate in which more gays and lesbians have been willing to take the fight into the courts.

According to Domi, there currently are nine openly acknowledged homosexuals serving in the military under the protection of court injunctions -- six who served under the old absolute ban and three under the new compromise. Mixner calls them "the Rosa Parkses" of the gay and lesbian community, comparing them to the Alabama black woman who led the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 by refusing to sit in the assigned back seats.

Whether or not Clinton's position on gays in the military affected the thinking of the judge in the case of National Guard Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, a decorated Vietnam war nurse of 26 years' service, the debate that his words and actions triggered last year is widely applauded among homosexuals for causing Americans to re-examine their attitudes.

Domi says Clinton erred in never seriously consulting gay and lesbian leaders before striking the compromise.

By executive action, Clinton has required an end to discrimination by sexual preference in every federal agency except the Department of Defense and the Defense Intelligence Board, Domi says. The question of sexual preference has been removed from all other security clearance questionnaires and, Frank notes, discrimination on grounds of sexual preference is now recognized as grounds for granting political asylum to foreign applicants.

Beyond that, Mixner says, appointments of open homosexuals have been unprecedented and widespread in the administration. In all, Clinton gets high grades from this constituency.

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