WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon will implement its new policy requiring gays to keep their sexual orientation secret despite a federal appeals court that ordered the reinstatement of a gay Naval Academy midshipman, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
'We don't believe that rulings that the courts have made in recent weeks will in any way stop us from moving ahead with the new gays in the military regulation,' said Pentagon spokeswoman Kathleen deLaski.
The regulations have been dubbed 'don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue.' It allows homosexuals to serve in the U.S. military provided they keep their sexual orientation secret.
The policy also forbids the services from asking a potential recruit's sexual preference and bars commanders from opening investigations just to find out a service member's sexual orientation.
DeLaski said the Pentagon had not yet decided whether to appeal the U.S. appeals court's ruling in the case of Joseph C. Steffan, which she said had been received only hours earlier.
The policy resulted from a compromise between President Clinton, who had wanted to lift completely the 50-year-old ban on gays in the military, military chiefs who wanted to retain it, and Sen. Sam Nunn, D. -Ga., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Nunn generally supported the military but also proposed the compromise, much of which will be written into law in the defense authorization bill nearing passage by Congress.
Pentagon and Justice Department legal experts say such a law would strengthen the new policy against future court challenges.
The ruling by a three-judge U.S. appeals court in Washington, D.C., Tuesday orders that Steffan, who was expelled from the Naval Academy after he admitted he was gay, be awarded his diploma and returned to active service as an officer in the U.S. Navy.
Pending the outcome of any appeal, the Pentagon will comply with that ruling, deLaski said. 'We will do as the court ordered.'
DeLaski noted that the Steffan case was decided not on the new Pentagon policy but on the old one, which was based on the assumption that 'homosexuality is incompatible with military service.'
'The court...,' she said, 'specifically dealt with the old policy and it was stated that way in the ruling. They seemed to make it pretty claar that is what they were dealing with.'
But the Steffan case involved exactly the same kind of voluntary admission that would still be prohibited under the new Pentagon policy.
The case arose in 1987, when Steffan confided that he was gay to another midshipman, who then turned him in. In an official investigation, Steffan again admitted his homosexuality and was expelled from the Naval Academy, where he had compiled an outstanding record.
'Mr. Steffan...,' the federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, 'must be judged by his conduct.
'It is fundamentally unjust to abort a most promising military career solely because of a truthful confession of a sexual preference different from that of the majority, a preference untarnished by even a scintilla of misconduct.'