Conservative lawmakers, hoping to erode support for President Clinton's partial lifting of the ban against homosexuals in the military services, sought Wednesday to portray the policy as so murky and ambiguous that it would drag the armed forces into endless court challenges.
Citing ambiguities, gray areas and gradations in Clinton's announced policy--such as what constitutes "homosexual conduct"--House and Senate members from both political parties said that military commanders would find it extremely difficult to sort out who should or should not be removed from the service.
"This policy is headed for the courts and the outcome is uncertain," warned Rep. Jon Kyle, a Republican from Arizona.
But Defense Secretary Les Aspin, flanked Wednesday by the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff as they urged members of a House Armed Services panel to adopt Clinton's changes, said that the new policy was thoroughly reviewed by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno and declared legally defensible before it was announced by the President on Monday.
The military leaders, who just last year were solidly opposed to changes in the policy, also pledged full support. Members of the Joint Chiefs, including Chairman Colin L. Powell, are telling Congress that they are firmly behind Clinton's proposed compromises. They said that six months of close study of the system has increased their sensitivity to the issue.
Powell, in a breakfast session with a small group of reporters this week, said that in lengthy discussions with the President, the service chiefs had agonized over "the very difficult issue," had challenged their own beliefs about homosexuals in the military and had wound up becoming "more tolerant in their views of what people can do in private."
Powell made it clear--both in the breakfast interview and in congressional testimony Wednesday--that Clinton's arguments had resulted in his views and those of the other chiefs becoming "more open."
But he sharply denied the contention of Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-San Diego) that the changes to the gay ban are just the first steps in the military's eventual acceptance of "the full homosexual agenda."
Rather, Powell characterized the Clinton proposal as a workable compromise and encouraged Congress to support it as well.
"If we have all that, I think we will have a pretty good system," Powell said. "At least one that is also supported by the American people."
The House and Senate this week are in the midst of committee hearings to determine whether Congress should make changes in the policy or codify the out-right ban and continue under the old system.