WASHINGTON -- The chaplain of the Marine Corps has distributed to senior military officers a position paper that says homosexuals in the armed forces are a "physical and psychological" threat to other troops.
The six-page paper, which has won praise from the Marines' top general, staunchly defends the armed forces' ban on gay men and lesbians, arguing that repealing the prohibition would hurt recruiting, undermine morale and increase the number of AIDS cases in the military.
"In the unique, intensely close environment of the military, homosexual conduct can threaten the lives, including the physical (e.g. AIDS) and psychological well-being of others," said the paper, distributed to senior officers within the last few weeks.
The Marine Corps chaplain, Capt. Larry H. Ellis of the Navy, a 50-year-old Southern Baptist minister, said in an interview that he had sent copies of the paper, which was written by his deputy, Chaplain Gene Gomulka, to the senior chaplains of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, as well as to other top-ranking officers, "to stimulate their thinking" on the issue.
"Legislators and military leaders," the paper said, "have a legitimate role to play in checking the spread of homosexual behavior, especially among young people whose minds and characters are in formative stages, thus preventing physical and/or psychological harm that could injure many innocent people."
Few of the paper's arguments are new, and the document does not represent an official position of the military's chaplaincy or the services, which have generally cited morale and security concerns in defending the ban. But the paper could serve as a counterattack to efforts in Congress to repeal the ban and Gov. Bill Clinton's promise to end the prohibition if elected president.
Critics of the ban said that it was unusual for chaplains to comment publicly on so highly charged a political issue and that the Pentagon could cite the paper to fight efforts to rescind the policy.
"It's alarming because the Defense Department is now going to defend its policy through the guise of the chaplains," said Tanya L. Domi, a former Army captain who is now legislative director of the National Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America, a lobbying group that is seeking to have the ban rescinded. "It's as if the religious attribution somehow gives their argument more credibility."
The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Carl Mundy Jr., in a memorandum to all Marine senior officers, praised the paper as "extremely insightful" work that presents "a sound basis for discussion of the issue." A Marine Corps spokesman, Lt. Col. Jim Vance, said General Mundy frequently distributed to his staff articles with varying viewpoints on a range of issues.
Captain Ellis said a senior officer, Rear Adm. Roberta L. Hazard, the highest-ranking woman in the Navy, had endorsed the paper "worthy armor for all flag officers. . ."