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Cohen Accepts Revisions to Homosexual Policy

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 23, 1998 – A Defense Department review panel found the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is being applied for the most part properly throughout the force.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen ordered a review of the homosexual policy after a gay rights group alleged commanders were implementing the policy improperly.

The review panel found most of these allegations false. "There were one or two, maybe three cases where it found there had been some problems," said Kenneth H. Bacon, DoD spokesperson, April 7, during a news briefing.

The review panel recommended five changes in the way DoD administers the policy. Cohen ordered immediate implementation of the panel's recommendations. They are:

  • Commanders should check with higher headquarters legal officials before investigating whether a service member is homosexual.
  • The department should issue more guidance on pretrial agreements. The agreements are sometimes used to obtain information on consensual sexual conduct as part of criminal investigations.
  • In so-called "coming out" cases, the commander's decision to conduct an investigation should not be made without careful review.
  • DoD should provide more training for commanders, attorneys and particularly for investigators who review the facts of alleged policy violations.
  • DoD should issue guidance that makes it clear that harassment of service members based on their alleged sexual orientation is unacceptable.

Cohen reiterated that harassment or threats of violence against alleged homosexual service members will not be tolerated. He added that fact-finding inquiries into homosexual conduct may be initiated only when commanders have received credible information.

The Clinton administration initiated its policy barring the pursuit and harassment of homosexuals in the military Feb. 24, 1994. In 1994, the military discharged 617 service members for homosexual conduct, according to the review panel's report.

In 1997, the number rose to 997. DoD officials said 82 percent of these discharges were cases involving accusations by others or statements from individuals acknowledging their homosexuality. The remaining 18 percent were due to homosexual acts.

The DoD policy states that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter and is not a bar to military service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. Military applicants are not asked about sexual preference as part of processing into the armed forces. The policy also states that the services may not initiate investigations solely to determine a member's sexual orientation. Commanders may initiate an investigation only on receipt of credible information that a service member has engaged in homosexual conduct such as stating his/her homosexuality, committing a homosexual act or entered into a homosexual marriage.

Under the policy, engaging in homosexual conduct is grounds for discharge from the military. Homosexual conduct was found to create an unacceptable risk to morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion. The long-standing prohibition of such conduct continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service.

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