- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

West Point has closed a loophole that allowed two cadets to annul their marriage in 1998 and avoid expulsion under the Army academy's no-marriage rule.

Some alumni from the nation's oldest military academy protested the arrangement as an abandonment of West Point's strict rules of conduct.

West Point amended the policy after the superintendent promised to adhere to the school's stance that cadets should be free of family obligations to focus on the demanding four-year curriculum.

"I do not believe the change was made because of the uproar from alumni," said Lt. Col. William Harkey, a West Point spokesman. "I believe the change was made because someone had found a loophole in the policy."

The original regulation, found in the cadets' signed "agreement to serve," banned marriage. The revised language goes further. It now states:

"I agree that I will not marry while I am a United States Military Academy cadet. I understand that if I marry while I am a United States Military cadet that I will be deemed to have breached the agreement to serve and will be separated from the academy, and that no dissolution of the marriage, either through divorce, annulment or other court order, will preclude my separation."

The section continues the prohibition on cadets having custody of, or supporting, a child.

Col. Harkey said no student has been disciplined under this clause since the 1998 incident. As to whether the rule would stand up in court, he said, "We are as confident as we can be at this point until it gets challenged."

The two cadets were married in August 1997. The female cadet gave birth the following November. They annulled the marriage in a Florida court after West Point began an investigation into whether they violated the no-marriage rule.

The male cadet graduated in 1998. The woman left school to give birth, then came back and graduated while the male cadet's parents took custody of the child.

Col. Harkey said he did not know if the two have remarried or taken custody of the child.

School officials acknowledged that other students could skirt the rules by acquiring an annulment if caught.

In an e-mail message to graduates after the annulment, Lt. Gen. Daniel W. Christman, the superintendent, said, "We're examining carefully how these and associated procedures might be changed in the future to reinforce the 'no-marriage' policy… . Academy officials neither suggested nor had any role in the student's legal course of action."

The school has not identified the two students. Gen. Christman in his e-mail message suggested the two had been punished administratively, but gave no details.

West Point accepted its first female cadets in 1976. Of some 4,000 cadets, about 14 percent are women.

The Navy and Air Force academies also ban marriage by midshipmen and cadets.

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