HOUSTON VOICE • JANUARY 14, 2000
Gore backs off pro-gay litmus test' for Joint Chiefs
The competition for gay votes in the Democratic presidential primary grew even more complicated last week, as
Vice President Al Gore first pledged he would make support
for gays in the military a "litmus test" for appointments to
the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, then apparently backtracked from the stand.
As Democratic presidential candidates continued their competition for gay votes this week, candidates in the Republican
party lined up against allowing gays to serve openly in the military— further illustrating the wide gap between the two parties
on many gay rights issues.
In a Jan. 5 televised debate in New Hampshire, where
they face a critical Feb. 1 primary, both candidates were
asked whether they would make support for allowing
openly gay service members a "litmus test" for appointing
the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gore answered first, explaining he hoped to make
progress oil service by openly gay soldiers similar to
President Harry Truman's racial integration of the military.
"I think that would require those who wanted to serve on
the Joint Chiefs to be in agreement with that policy," Gore
said. "1 would insist before appointing anybody to the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, that that individual support my policy, and
yes, I would make that a requirement."
Gore said there is a difference between using a "litmus
test" for military officials and using them for appointing
Supreme Court justices. In the case of military appointments, one is "not interfering with an independent judicial
decision," he said.
Bradley offered a more nuanced answer, stating that military leaders are expected to follow the orders of the
President, the Commander in Chief.
'One of the nice things about
military people is they're
contender Alan Keyes, who
chastised his opponents for
not calling for a return to a
complete ban on gays in the
Bradley doesn't agree with
the concept of litmus tests,
but he could not imagine
appointing anvone to the
joint chiefs who didn't support allowing gays to serve
openly, the candidate's staffers later said, according to
the New York Times.
But faced with immediate
outcry from sources ranging
from some of his own supporters to military leaders and veterans groups, Gore backed away
from his litmus test pledge later
in the week—in what his campaign staff called a "clarification"
of his position.
"I did not mean to imply
that there should ever be any
kind of inquiry into the personal political opinions of officers in the U.S. military," he told reporters at a hastily convened news conference after a campaign rally at a Des
Moines-area high school.
"What I meant to convey was I would not tolerate, nor would
any commander in chief, nor would any president tolerate orders
not being followed," Gore said, insisting he never used the term
"litmus test," although it was included in the wording of the question to which he answered "yes."
Several former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, many opponents of gays in the military, told the New York Times Gore's initial
pledge was wrong.
Military officers certainly execute the orders of the president,
but a litmus test beforehand would place an officer in an untenable position saying, 'Do you believe what I believe?" said Gen.
Carl E. Mundy, a retired commandant of the Manne Corps.
Even Sen. John Kern; a Vietnam veteran campaigning for Gore
in New Hampshire, said he disagreed with Gore's pledge,
although he generally supports allowing gays in the military.
Sen. John McCain, a candidate for the Republican presidential
nomination, said at a GOP debate in South Carolina that Gore's
pledge was "a disgraceful statement," while a Pentagon
spokesman offered a reminder that campaign promises don't
always translate into action.
"Candidates for political office are certainly free to do that
and must do that in order to explain their views to the
American people," said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a spokesman
for Defense Secretary William Cohen. "But I would not speculate as to what that mav or may not mean a year from now."
Changing the policy will be impossible without
Congressional support, President Clinton agreed last week.
While Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley debated how to
appoint military leaders who share their opposition to "Don't
Ask, Don't Tell" last week, Republican candidates spoke out in
favor of the military's ban on openly gay semcemembers in
their own televised debates.
Responding to Gore's statement in a debate that he would
have a "litmus test" for military appointees to support openly gay service members, Texas Gov. George Bush, currently
the parry's front-runner, went so tar as to say he would adopt
a "litmus test" requiring that appointees agree to keep gays
from serving openly.
At the same time, the Republican National Committee said it
plans a new TV ad accusing Gore of advocating a policy that
would prohibit Gulf War heroes Colin Powell and Norman
Schwarzkopf from serving on the joint Chiefs of Staff, looking
to exploit Gore's.
The ad features shots of soldiers at work, of Powell and
Schwarzkopf and ends with: "Call Al Gore. Tell him the
only litmus test ought to be for patriotism." The ad will
reportedly air in Iowa, New Hampshire and a few other
states with early primary dates.
—From staff and wire reports