Not a Policy but a Prejudice : Court wrongly upholds exclusion of homosexuals by military

When he upheld the Pentagon's policy excluding homosexuals from serving in the military, U.S. District Judge Oliver Gasch justified it as promoting "the maintenance of discipline, morale, good order, a respected system of rank and command, a healthy military force, morality and respect for the privacy interests of both officers and the enlisted." But Gasch's decision, announced this week, did little more than underscore the discrimination and hypocrisy that is the only basis for this unsound policy.

In 1987 Joseph C. Steffan, a Naval Academy midshipman in good standing, admitted he is gay after he learned he was the subject of a homosexuality inquiry by the Naval Investigative Service. The academy told Steffan that he could not graduate because of a 1981 Pentagon regulation prohibiting homosexuals in the armed forces. Steffan resigned six weeks shy of graduation but later sought to withdraw his resignation.

A Ninth Circuit appeals court last August in Pasadena ruled that to remain in force the Pentagon's ban had to be founded on factual evidence, not just homophobia. Although that decision is not binding on Gasch's court in Washington, D.C., the judge sought to word his decision in terms of facts and evidence. The policy of exclusion, he ruled, "is rational in that it is directed, in part, at preventing those who are at the greatest risk of dying of AIDS from serving."

But Gasch has distorted some facts and ignored others. For instance, a large percentage of those who carry the AIDS virus are heterosexuals. And gay women have the lowest rate of infection of any grouping based on sexual orientation.

Moreover, there was no evidence in Steffan's case that he had sexual relations with anyone or that he is infected with the AIDS virus.

The government's legitimate interest in preventing the spread of AIDS in the military is already addressed. Since 1985, the Defense Department has screened all prospective recruits for the AIDS virus and has policies in place regarding personnel found to be infected.

Gasch's decision fails to justify a policy that serves no purpose other than to perpetuate fear and prejudice.

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