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Army gays to be decriminalised

(First Edition)

DEFENCE ministers are planning to introduce legislation to decriminalise homosexuality in the armed forces, but they intend to draw the line at allowing homosexuals to serve, writes Colin Brown.

The ministers believe the controversy that engulfed President Bill Clinton over his vain attempts to open the US armed services to gays served as a warning to the British government against radical reform.

After the change in the law, homosexuals will still be barred from entry to the British forces, and discharged if discovered.

Defence ministers said privately they expected a tougher campaign if the age of consent for homosexuals in civilian life was lowered.

Austalia, Denmark and Spain have no discrimination against homosexuals. Mr Clinton was forced to retreat, after an outcry from the military, from his election pledge to allow homosexuals to serve in the armed forces. But he did reach a compromise, under which the US military will not ask recruits whether they are homosexual.

British defence ministers announced their intention to decriminalise homosexuality this year, and are expected to enshrine it in legislation when the armed forces Acts, on discipline in the services, are renewed next year.

Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, was warned not to allow homosexuals into the armed forces by General Sir John Hackett, the former commander in chief of the British army on the Rhine. 'If a corporal falls in love with a general or vice versa, is that going to be helpful in the maintenance of good order and military discipline?' he said on BBC radio.

But Paul Barnes, of the Tory campaign for homosexual equality, said 52 per cent of Conservative voters believed gays should be allowed into the armed services. 'When this was pointed out to ministers in the ministry of defence, the response was that those individuals were not aware of the special circumstances that apply in the armed forces.'