Pentagon panel favors keeping much of gay ban


WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon panel appointed to devise ways to allow homosexuals to serve in the military has proposed two plans, one of which would keep many parts of the current ban, senior Defense Department officials said yesterday.

The second option presented by the panel, which is composed of 50 military officers and enlisted personnel, would allow declared homosexuals to serve in the armed forces but would ban homosexual conduct.

The fact that the panel is considering preserving much of the ban indicates the difficulties the Clinton administration is having in carrying out its promise to end discrimination in the armed forces based on sexual orientation.

Defense Secretary Les Aspin is expected to receive final policy options in the next 10 days.

If the Pentagon adopts a policy that would end the military's efforts to unmask homosexuals but continue to bar from service those gay men and lesbians who were open about their sexuality, it would signal a significant retreat from President's Clinton's pledge.

A growing number of senior Senate Democrats and Republicans are beginning to coalesce around this option, which Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., the Armed Services Committee chairman, has summarized as, "Don't ask, don't tell."

Senior Pentagon officials expressed concern yesterday that Mr. Nunn had seized control of the public debate on homosexuals in the military through a series of hearings.

The Pentagon panel, headed by Lt. Gen. Robert M. Alexander of the Air Force, is examining issues such as morale, personal privacy, housing arrangements, discipline, health, legal implications, recruiting and the need for sensitivity training.

The panel's first option would embrace "don't ask, don't tell" and would include clear procedures for investigating allegations of homosexual conduct. "This would not work," one administration official said, "because what does 'to tell' mean? What if people found out? More importantly, it doesn't stop the fundamental discrimination."

The panel's second option would allow gay men and lesbians to serve while being open about their sexual orientation but would ban homosexual conduct.

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