Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Pentagon’s top general yesterday did not apologize for calling homosexual activity “immoral” in the context of a discussion earlier this week about the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, prompting continued protests from homosexual and liberal advocacy groups.

But Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, clarified his remarks somewhat, saying that while he “also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct,” he “should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.”

He had told the Chicago Tribune, in an interview published late Monday, that his upbringing taught him that “certain types of conduct are immoral,” citing adultery as well as homosexuality. The military does not now ask recruits or members whether they are homosexual and expects them not to disclose their sexual preference. More than 100 lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have signed onto a bill that would allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military.

“Saying that gays should serve openly in the military, to me, says that we, by policy, would be condoning what I believe is immoral activity,” Gen. Pace told the paper. “I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.”

The furor around Gen. Pace, who is Roman Catholic, came on the same day that Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholic politicians “to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature.” The pope mentioned marriage between one man and one woman as one of these values.

“Just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so were sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just look the other way,” Gen. Pace told the Tribune. “We do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior between members of the Armed Forces.”

Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, rebuked Gen. Pace yesterday, saying, “I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the chairman’s view that homosexuality is immoral.”

Mr. Warner said he would suspend comment on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy until after hearings are held on the matter.

Gen. Pace’s clarification yesterday also did not satisfy homosexual advocacy groups, who continued to call for an apology.

“We don’t consider it an apology, and we don’t consider it an appropriate response,” said Steve Ralls, communications director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), which has given legal assistance to some homosexual military personnel.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in an interview with the Pentagon’s internal TV channel yesterday, also issued some mild criticism of the general, saying that “personal opinion really doesn’t have a place here.” He declined to answer a question on the military’s policy.

Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said President Bush approved of Gen. Pace’s clarification.

Gen. Pace “made it very clear that his personal views on this matter has no influence on the policy of the United States government,” said Mr. Bartlett, who was traveling with Mr. Bush in Merida, Mexico.

The president “thought it was appropriate for the chairman to make that clear distinction today,” he said.

SLDN reacted to Gen. Pace’s original comments on its Web site by calling them “outrageous, insensitive and disrespectful” to homosexual troops.

“General Pace knows that prejudice should not dictate policy. It is inappropriate for the chairman to condemn those who serve our country because of his own personal bias,” said C. Dixon Osburn, SLDN’s executive director.

Mr. Osburn estimated there are 65,000 homosexual U.S. troops currently serving in the active and reserve military of about 2.7 million.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said his group, along with SLDN, had called for a full apology from Gen. Pace, “not his lame statement of ‘regret’ — and if he fails to do that, his prompt dismissal.”

A 2005 Government Accountability Office report said that more than 10,000 U.S. military personnel have been discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy since it was implemented by President Clinton in 1993.

Also chastising Gen. Pace were at least two prominent Catholic House members.

“We need the most talented people,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “We don’t need moral judgment from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.” Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat and a sponsor of the bill to allow open homosexuals in the military, said, “Our military is struggling to find and keep the soldiers we need.”

In his statement yesterday, Gen. Pace defended himself by noting that ” ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ allows individuals to serve this nation, and … does not make a judgment about the morality of individual acts.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, told reporters in California that the general “should be given a chance to explain himself.” Asked for his own view on homosexuals in the military, Mr. McCain called the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “successful and should be maintained.”

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