`Don't ask, don't tell' won't end debate on gays

The Washington debate over allowing homosexuals in the military promises to remain heated for months, if not years, to come. On the right, members of Congress are likely to push for a more conservative policy than the Clinton administration seems ready to implement. On the left, homosexual-rights advocates are likely to continue court challenges to a policy they view as legally weakened.

President Clinton is expected to issue his so-called "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy easing the current military ban on gays sometime this week.

Under this approach, the armed forces would end the practice of questioning recruits about sexual orientation. Homosexuals in the service would be allowed what one administration official terms a "zone of privacy," with rumor or innuendo no longer a basis for the beginning of an investigation into their personal lives.

But homosexuality would still be grounds for dismissal from the military, and a detailed code of conduct would list prohibited actions, such as same-sex hand-holding.

The tide of congressional opinion seems to hold the proposed Clinton policy as too liberal. Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, for one, has said he will propose his own strict legislation on the subject.

But some legal scholars see the policy as internally inconsistent and, thus, vulnerable to challenge. The "don't ask ... don't pursue" approach, in essence, admits that the real problem is not homosexuality per se, but the reaction of heterosexuals to homosexuals.

"This is not as strong a rationale as once claimed. They are going to have a much harder time defending this," says Ruth Colker, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies the legal standing of gays and lesbians.

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