WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon made public yesterday a long-delayed study that recommends completely eliminating the ban on gays in the military -- a policy that would go far beyond President Clinton's decision July 19 to allow homosexuals to serve only with strict limitations.
The findings were presented in a Rand Corp. report that essentially was completed in early July -- 15 days before the president announced the more restrictive policy -- but was kept under wraps until now, after the issue has been decided and the furor has largely abated.
Clinton administration officials acknowledged that only minuscule changes have been made in the document since the initial draft was finished seven weeks ago, but they denied that the report was delayed for political reasons.
Kathleen deLaski, the Defense Department's spokeswoman, said that the report had not been made public earlier because "it did not exist in a hard-copy form." But she said policy-makers had been briefed on it before Mr. Clinton made his decision.
David M. Smith, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, charged that the report "clearly was deliberately delayed" to deprive gay-rights groups of added ammunition for arguing that Mr. Clinton should do away with all restrictions.
"This clearly indicates that the administration took a politically expedient way out . . . instead of doing the right thing," Mr. Smith contended. He said the report showed that "if the president would have . . . put forth a principled position, he would have been supported."
The policy announced by Mr. Clinton allows homosexuals to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation private, but it continues to make them subject to discharge for engaging in homosexual acts on or off base.
Mr. Clinton told Pentagon officials last January that he wanted to draft an order "ending discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in determining who may serve in the armed forces," but backpedaled after opposition from conservatives and military leaders.
The $1.3 million study released yesterday, commissioned by the Pentagon to provide the most comprehensive treatment of the subject, says military commanders should "consider sexual orientation, by itself, as not germane to determining who may serve in the military."
It asserts that such a policy -- which essentially would declare a person's sexual orientation to be none of the government's business -- would be the "only one . . . consistent with" both the findings of the study and Mr. Clinton's mandate in January to end discrimination.
The 518-page document also systematically disputes -- or dismisses as manageable problems -- virtually all the major arguments that military leaders and conservatives have made against eliminating the ban.
It contends that countries that allow homosexuals to serve in the military have found that gays and lesbians generally do not openly admit their orientation, are "appropriately circumspect" in their behavior and cause few problems that are not easily resolved.
It contends there is no credible evidence that the existence of homosexuals hurts combat effectiveness and unit cohesion, as military commanders argue. Those opposed to the presence of gays and lesbians will react by ostracizing them as individuals, the document says.
And it dismisses as outdated fears that the presence of known homosexuals will exacerbate problems relating to privacy in showers and foxholes, saying a survey of military facilities shows there is greater privacy now than 20 years ago.
The key to making a lift-the-ban policy work, asserts the report, is to set clear guidelines on what kinds of behavior will be tolerated and to exercise leadership "from the top" to make sure that the new policy is carried out throughout the ranks.
The document recommends that policy-makers establish clear rules prohibiting personal harassment of all soldiers and set uniform standards of conduct that would apply the law evenly to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.
It also suggests that the Pentagon revise the Manual of Courts-Martial, which establishes the procedure for military trials, limit prosecution for sexual offenses only to those incidents that involve "non-consenting" adults or sexual acts with a minor.
It said no changes are needed to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the body of laws for the military, because that legislation already is non-discriminatory. But it said the law must be applied more evenly.