WASHINGTON -- The Senate endorsed a tougher version of President Clinton's policy on gays in the armed forces yesterday, defeating a proposal to ease the policy and calling homosexuality "an unacceptable risk" to morale in the armed forces.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, which would have given the president the final say in policy on gays in the military, was defeated as expected by a vote of 63-33. Key Democratic leaders voted against Ms. Boxer's proposal.
Last night, the White House spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers, said the action was not a defeat for Mr. Clinton. "It just puts back into play legislation we said we could live with," she said. The outcome means that a more rigorous version of what has been dubbed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, announced by Mr. Clinton and endorsed by the Pentagon earlier this summer, will be incorporated into the Senate version of the $261 billion defense authorization bill.
A painfully wrought compromise reached in July between the White House and conservative supporters of the ban stipulated that gays and lesbians would no longer be asked if they were homosexual, but enjoined gays not to reveal their sexuality.
The new legislation would continue that policy but allow a future defense secretary to reinstate the question on sexual orientation.
Where Mr. Clinton's policy said sexual orientation was no bar to military service, the legislation makes no mention of orientation but says "persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline."
The Clinton policy called for even-handed enforcement of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for heterosexuals and homosexuals. The code bars sodomy. Gay activists said the new Senate version of "don't ask, don't tell" -- championed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat -- should be called "lie and hide."
Gregory King of the Campaign for Human Rights, a major gay group, said Mr. Nunn's version of the ban would allow the military to ask a recruit's sexual orientation.