Still don't ask Gays in service: On tough issue, appeals court defers to military, president, Congress.

April 11, 1996

IN THE FIRST appeals court ruling on the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, a divided Fourth Circuit Court has deferred to the political process. With several challenges to the law pending in more liberal circuits, the Supreme Court will undoubtedly be asked to resolve the issue.

It might do well to follow the Fourth Circuit's lead. Rather than probing the constitutional issues raised by an inherently awkward compromise, the Fourth Circuit took the more conservative tack of citing a time-honored precedent of allowing great discretion in matters of discipline to the military and to the civilian leaders who oversee it.

The ruling does not satisfy nagging concerns about the fairness or effectiveness of the current policy; nor does it allay fears that it merely abets anti-homosexual prejudice that in the long run will prove counter-productive to the military mission. But at least the court recognizes the sensitivity of issues affecting the nation's armed forces and the wisdom of judicial restraint in these matters.

For a military still adjusting to the presence of women in large numbers, the obsessive opposition to acknowledging or accommodating the presence of homosexuals represents an odd exception to the rule of proving one's worth through performance, without regard to labels or stereotypes. We believe that what matters most to members of today's armed forces is not certification of the correct sexual preference, but rather the assurance that each member of their team is ready and able to perform with excellence. Even so, the courts would be wise to allow the military great leeway in making these judgments.

More than almost any other institution in American society, the armed forces have succeeded in overcoming stereotypes of race and sex. Eventually, this will also include prejudices against homosexuals.

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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