The top U.S. military officer has said homosexuality is immoral, sparking renewed controversy about the status of homosexuals in the U.S. military. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, told the Chicago Tribune newspaper the military ban on homosexuals should continue, because homosexuality is immoral. The newspaper posted audio from the interview on its Web site.
PACE: "I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral, and that we should not condone immoral acts."
General Pace told the Tribune that to officially allow homosexuals to serve in the military would be an endorsement of immoral activity. He said the military should not endorse any immoral acts, mentioning specifically homosexuality and extra-marital affairs, which are also against military regulations. General Pace endorsed the current policy, under which homosexuals serve by keeping their sexual orientation a secret.
The general's comments drew immediate criticism from homosexual advocacy organizations, including the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which helps homosexual members of the military defend themselves when the military tries to expel them. Its deputy policy director is Sharon Alexander.
"When you are in a position of authority like chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there's no such thing as an off-the-record comment or a statement of your personal opinion," she said. "When General Pace speaks, by virtue of who he is and the position he holds, he is speaking for the military. And for him to use his position to express a personal belief about the immorality of homosexuality is irresponsible, at best."
Alexander says General Pace should not have condemned an entire class of people based on what she called "a characteristic as relevant to their character as their sexual orientation." And she rejected the general's comparison of homosexual activity to infidelity among married service members, which she said is breaking a vow.
In a written statement issued Tuesday, General Pace says that during the interview he should have focused more on his support for the current policy and less on his personal views about morality.
Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the Defense Department's policy has not changed, and is based on a law, not anyone's personal opinion.
"It very specifically requires the Defense Department to separate from the armed forces members who engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts, state that they are homosexual or bisexual, or marry or attempt to marry a person of the same biological sex," said Mr. Whitman.
That law was passed in 1994 and is known as the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Homosexuals may not serve, but only if officials know they are homosexual, and officials are not allowed to ask the sexual orientation of service members or recruits. Previously, military officials were free to investigate anyone suspected of being a homosexual, and discharge them if the allegation was proved.
According to Bryan Whitman the department has discharged about 11,000 troops for homosexuality since the 1994 law was passed. In those cases, the troops either announced their sexual orientation or were caught engaging in homosexual activity.
In recent months, advocates on both sides of the issue have called for the law to be changed. Some argue that the presence of homosexual troops is bad for what is called the "good order and discipline" of the force.
But others say homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military. They say tens of thousands of homosexuals are already serving honorably and they should no longer be forced to hide their sexual orientation.