Bush on Gay Rights Issues

Many gays and lesbians say they have no illusions about where President-elect George W. Bush stands when it comes to their rights. So far, they don't like what they see.

But many agree it's unclear how Bush will deal with these issues when he reaches the White House.

During his 1994 campaign for the governorship, Bush defended the state's sodomy law, which makes sexual activity between same-sex adults illegal, as a "symbolic gesture of traditional values."

It is commonly believed that Bush derailed a Texas hate-crime bill in 1999 because it included protections based on sexual orientation. Also that year, Bush supported a measure that banned gay couples from becoming foster parents or from adopting foster children.

"The short answer is that it is unclear," said David Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, one of the nation's largest gay rights organizations, when asked how the Bush administration might handle gay rights issues.

But many, including Smith, say they find foreboding Bush's Texas record and some of his recent picks for his administration's Cabinet, including former Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., for U.S. attorney general.

Bush has opposed certain pieces of gay rights legislation because he does not believe there is a need to legislate gay rights.

"The President-elect has said he is absolutely an opponent of discrimination of any sort, but he does not believe in special rights," says Juleanna Glover Weiss, a Bush transition spokeswoman. "He believes in changing peoples' hearts, but he doesn't necessarily believe that lawsuits and lawyers are the answer to that."

Staying Put on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Many experts agree that Bush, in the beginning, will try to avoid the controversial military policy of "Don't ask, don't tell," in which service members are not allowed to reveal their sexual orientation and the military is not allowed to ask about it. The controversial policy landed President Clinton in the hot seat for months in the early part of his administration.

Bush says he will adhere to the policy, which was created by then-Army Gen.Colin Powell. Both Powell, now Bush's nominee for secretary of state, and Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser-designee, oppose gays serving openly in the military.

The 1993 policy states that those in the military who engage in "homosexual conduct" would create "an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability."

Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's nominee for secretary of defense, said the president-elect has not discussed the matter with him.

"Certainly, the priorities are in other areas for me," he said.

Leaders in the gay community charge the policy has led to sharp increases in harassment of service members and record numbers of discharges.

According to a recent report by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the Pentagon fires three service members every day for being lesbian, gay or bisexual. The Pentagon discharged 1,034 military personnel in fiscal year 1999, compared to 1,149 in fiscal 1998. Still, discharges are 73 percent higher than when the policy went into effect, the report says. There were 617 discharges in 1994, according to the report.

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