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Change sodomy laws: army told

Consensual sodomy between members of the US military no longer would be a criminal act under a proposal sent to Congress by the Pentagon's legal office. Gays could still be drummed out of the military for openly discussing or acting on their sexual preferences, but the separate criminal rule against consensual sodomy would be changed to bring the military legal code closer to that governing civilians, according to the April 7 memorandum.

Under the current Uniform Code of Military Justice, consensual sodomy by heterosexual or homosexual couples can be punished by up to five years in prison. But, if Congress approves, that would be changed so that only "forcible" sodomy or sodomy with a child could be prosecuted as criminal acts.

The office of the Pentagon's general counsel sent a draft copy of the proposal to leaders of the US Senate and House of Representatives Armed Services Committees.

Groups that advocate gay rights in the military praised the proposal, which must be approved by Congress. "The nation's troops should be protected by the same Constitution they give their lives to defend," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese in a statement.

"Service members should not be expected to automatically check their constitutional rights at the barracks door," added Sharra Greer, director of law and policy for the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network. "Consensual sodomy prosecutions are both unwarranted and unconstitutional."

Under the policy, homosexuals can be dismissed from the armed forces if they commit homosexual acts or openly discuss or reveal their sexual preferences. The chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff last week defended the policy amid a new push by critics in Congress to repeal it. The military says that open homosexual behaviour is detrimental to good order and discipline in the ranks.

"I know there is some interest in the subject, as there is almost continuously. In the meantime, we try to implement the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy the best we can," Air Force Gen Richard Myers, the top US military officer, told a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors last week. Myers said he supported the policy, adopted by Congress in 1993.

"Our job is to make sure we execute and implement that in the way that was intended by the law, and it involves, like a lot of things, continual education," the general added.
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