WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration moved to shore up its "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military by arguing yesterday that the policy can withstand a new Supreme Court ruling that protects homosexuals' rights.
In legal papers filed in the Supreme Court, the administration's lawyers said the justices should pass up the first case challenging the constitutionality of the policy.
While conceding that its restriction on gays in uniform does raise an important constitutional issue, those lawyers said the court should await further review by lower courts before getting involved. So far, it said, lower courts are not split on the policy.
The first case -- likely to get its initial reaction from the justices next month -- involves an appeal by a former Navy lieutenant, Paul G. Thomasson, who was discharged under the new policy after saying he was gay. His discharge has been upheld by lower courts.
Under the new government policy, gay men and lesbians are allowed to remain in the service, provided they do not say they are homosexual or they can prove that they are not homosexual if the question is raised during an investigation. New recruits are not supposed to be asked about their sexuality.
Gay-rights groups pursuing several lawsuits against the policy contend that the Supreme Court ruling in May, saying that the Constitution assures homosexuals some right to legal equality, poses a major threat to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The Clinton administration's legal papers in the Supreme Court provided its first response to that claim. The military policy on homosexuals, the administration said, is a far narrower restriction than the Supreme Court had in mind in its May decision.
Pub Date: 9/24/96