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If Joint Chiefs have problem, let them disobey like men.

In Miltary Justice Is to Justice What Military Music Is to Music, Robert Sherrill writes: "It is one of the ironies of patriotism that a man who is called to the military service of his country may anticipate not only the possibility of giving up his life but also of giving up his liberties."

Since 1982, some 13,000 military men and women have been denied their civil liberties by being forced out of the ranks as homosexuals. Last year, about 700 such "administrative separations" occurred. In keeping with the Pentagon's penchant for budgetary extravagance, the cost for this witch-hunting has been huge: more than a quarter-billion dollars in the past decade.

No evidence exists that the military is more effective at national defense or has been impeded in the bombing of civilians in Grenada, Libya, Panama or the Persian Gulf because 13,000 gays or lesbians are off the Pentagon payroll. Evidence is available, though, that sexual harassment is rampant in the armed forces - heterosexual men hitting on women, the Tailhook syndrome. A Naval Academy investigation, another one, began last week over a possible sexual assault by a mid-shipman against a female classmate.

These sexual harassment cases are about behavior, not orientation. The issue of homosexuals and the military needs to turn on what people do, not what they are. Sexual assault ought to be a crime whether the assailant is hetero- or homo- or bisexual. That's the constitutional standard everywhere except in the military. Who's right: society in general or the generals in the Pentagon?

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, those chesty he-men forever boasting that the role of the military is to salute and follow orders, suddenly have a new interpretation of obedience to the commander in chief. President Clinton is wrong to remove the ban on homosexuality, they are grumping, and he ought to heed the wishes of the chiefs who favor it. The noble thing for these dissidents would be to announce that they refuse to follow Clinton's order on grounds of conscience, the way soldiers of courage did in 1990 and 1991, when choosing jail rather than to fight in the Gulf War.

Taking that kind of lonely stand would create respect for Gen. Colin Powell and the others, however homophobic their views would still be. At least they would be acting on their consciences, joining a worthy tradition that said no to a command they believed was wrong. Instead, the chiefs are gutlessly taking on Clinton by hustling votes in Congress and whining to the media. They decided to fight a war of innuendo that "good order and discipline" is at stake, that the barracks will become bathhouses and that homosexuals are instinctively predatory.

A Navy spokesman, Cmdr. Craig Quigley, told The New York Times, "homosexuals are notoriously promiscuous." And Navy heterosexuals are models of chastity and celibacy? No research has ever come from the Pentagon or any other bigots that the debauchery level of gays and lesbians is "notoriously" high. People flout their sexuality - or don't - regardless of their sexual orientation. Anecdotal evidence that gay equals immorality is only that.

After President Truman gave the Pentagon hell and integrated the armed forces in 1948, arguments were heard that blacks would ruin morale, that they were unreliable in combat and would make whites uncomfortable in the barracks and social clubs. Back then, as now, Congress told Truman he was making a mistake. In 1948, the Senate voted 67-7 to keep a segregated military. If the Joint Chiefs have their biased way, today's Senate would vote again for the new segregation.

Bigotry against blacks and gays is the same: fear and hatred for what they are, not what they do.

Colman McCarthy is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post.
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Title Annotation:opposition to lifting the military gay ban
Author:McCarthy, Colman
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 19, 1993
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