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U.S. Seeks to Narrow Gays in Military Ruling : Courts: Justice Department asks appeals panel to limit judge’s action. It says Clinton Administration must be free to implement its policy.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Arguing that a recent court decision interferes with President Clinton’s authority, federal lawyers are asking an appeals panel to block a ruling that gays and lesbians should be allowed to openly serve in the military.

Although the ruling reflects Clinton’s repeated statements that the military’s ban on gay men and women should be lifted, the Justice Department contends in a notice of appeal filed Wednesday that the court decision hinders implementation of a six-month interim policy dealing with the issue.

In a January order, U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter in Los Angeles reinstated openly gay Petty Officer Keith Meinhold to the Navy and struck down as unconstitutional the military’s prohibition of homosexuals.

“The order is clearly overly broad,” the Justice Department argued in papers filed in San Francisco with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. "(It) restricts the authority of the President in consultation with Congress to make rules governing the armed forces and should be stayed pending appeal.”

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The government motion does not seek to reverse the reinstatement of Meinhold, who is on active duty as a sonar instructor at Moffett Field Naval Air Station in Northern California. Rather, it seeks to narrow Hatter’s ruling so that it applies only to Meinhold and not to military policy as a whole.

Federal lawyers also suggest in their filing that the appeals court--once it has acted on the request for an immediate stay of Hatter’s order--delay further action in the case until mid-July, when Clinton is expected to issue an executive order outlining a new policy on gays in the military.

Clinton’s plans to overturn the longstanding ban on homosexuals erupted into a fierce controversy during his first week in office, with military officials and a number of congressional leaders adamantly opposing the change. Clinton later agreed to postpone an executive order for six months while Congress reviews the matter.

Under a compromise interim policy, the military has stopped discharging gay service members, instead removing them from active duty and putting them on standby reserve status. Recruiters also have stopped asking enlistees about their sexual orientation.

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Justice Department spokesmen declined to comment on the filing of the appeal.

Meinhold, a 12-year veteran, sued the government when he was discharged last year after disclosing in a television news interview that he is gay.

He expressed surprise and anger over the government motion. “I can think of no rational basis for this appeal,” he said Thursday. “Judge Hatter’s decision only reinforces the Administration’s intention to lift the ban.”


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