The following article appeared in the New York times on Friday, July 16th, 1993. It is reproduced without permission.

Clinton is said to accept parts of plan on gay ban

by Thomas I. Friedman

Washington, July 15th -- President Clinton has decided to accept in large measure Defense Secretary Les Aspin's proposal for a limited lifting of restrictions on homosexuals in the military, but last-minute work is continuing to answer legal questions raised by Attorney General Janet Reno, Administration officials said tonight.

Mt. Clinton and Mr. Aspin met for more than two hours tonight as the Defense Secretary formally submitted his recommendation for a policy that would drop the military's current ban on homosexuals but limit how open they could be about their sexuality, the officials said.

One official said Mr. Clinton had decided to adopt Mr. Aspin's essential "don't ask, don't tell" approach but was seeking "refinements" that would make it somewhat less restrictive and would heed warnings from Ms. Reno that the policy could violate gay soldiers' Constitutional rights.

Deadline Set in January

Today was the date set by Mr. Clinton in January when, faced with strong opposition from the military and in Congress, he delayed his plan to lift the ban and asked for a new proposal.

But Mr. Clinton told Congressional leaders this afternoon that he wanted to take two or three more days to study the recommendation before he gave his final approval. He also wants Attorney General Reno and her aides to review it once more before he signs off on it, officials said.

A senior Administration official characterized the Aspin compromise as a policy of "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue." What that means is that new recruits would no longer be asked whether they are gay. But they would not be allowed to identify themselves as homosexuals once in the armed services, except to chaplains, doctors and lawyers. Homosexual conduct on or off base would still be prohibited.

Legal Concerns

But in deference to the Justice Department and homosexual rights groups, the policy would also explicitly spell out the conditions under which the military could pursue an investigation into homosexual conduct.

Aides to Mr. Clinton and Mr. Aspin were working tonight on these particulars, which were apparently added after Ms. Reno told the White House last week that the policy could be hard to defend in court. Officials said she cautioned that the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law could be violated if the policy went too far in prohibiting homosexuals from saying things that heterosexual soldiers were free to express. Her role in the discussion was disclosed today in the Baltimore Sun.

Under the policy, a homosexual soldier who was seen going into a gay bar or gay church could not be investigated on those grounds alone. There would have to be "credible evidence" of either an acknowledgment of a homosexual orientation or homosexual behavior, and just going into a building would not constitute that. This notion of "don't pursue" as a way of creating a little room for homosexuals in the military to express their sexual orientation more freely outside military bases was pushed by the President on Wednesday night in discussions with Secretary Aspin, who went over it today with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Justice Department lawyers.

For the past few weeks, Secretary Aspin has been holding discussions with the Joint Chiefs, the Justice Department and the White House, trying to identify as many of these situations as possible so the recommended policy will make it clear to the President precisely what would and what would not lead to an investigation.

Leaving Room

"What everyone wants to avoid is giving room for a homophobic commander to go around launching investigations of homosexual conduct wherever he feels like," said a senior Administration official. "We also want to avoid stimulating vigilante squads who will post themselves outside of gay bar and churches, filming everyone who goes in because they think that will trigger an investigation.

"But we also want to avoid giving license for someone to go up to their commanding officer and say, `I'm gay, and I want everyone here to know that,'" the official said.

White House officials said that approach had won the general asset of the Attorney General, but Ms. Reno's office would not comment. Ms. Reno, who seemed to be trying to play down her role in any compromise, said late today: "All we're doing is reviewing it to make sure that we are giving the best advice to the President."

White House officials acknowledged that the compromise would fall well short of the President's campaign promise to lift the ban on homosexuals unconditionally, as long as they did not engage in open homosexual conduct.

But White House officials said Mr. Aspin's formulation was all they believed they could achieve politically at a time when a bipartisan conservative coalition in Congress has threatened to write a homosexual ban into law if the President open the military doors too wide. the Joint Chiefs of Staff have also resisted efforts to lift the ban.

Avoiding a fight

Because the President wants to focus on his economic package, the White House wants to avoid a political battle on the issue of homosexuals in the military. Mr. Aspin has told White House officials that the Joint Chiefs of Staff will only accept a policy that would allow homosexuals to serve only if they abstained from public or private declarations of their sexual orientation, leaders of gay rights groups have said.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff voted two weeks ago for a policy that would retain the current statement that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service." But Secretary Aspin has apparently managed to persuade the chiefs to accept different wording that describes "homosexual conduct," not homosexual orientation, as incompatible with military service.

The administration has set an implementation date of Oct. 1 for the new policy.