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All over the dance floor

Americans can be forgiven for their confusion over what President Clinton really believes about the rights of homosexuals. How can you dance with a partner who is leading one minute and following the next?

Clinton stumbled early over his campaign pledge to lift the ban on gays and lesbians in the military. Under political pressure, that pledge quickly turned into the watered down "don't ask, don't tell" compromise that angered many gays and lesbians who had helped elect him to office.

More recently, the waffle continued as the administration and Attorney General Janet Reno opted to stay out of a legal challenge to the state of Colorado's ban on laws that would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. It would have been quite appropriate for the Justice Department to file a brief affirming the federal government's views against discrimination. Clinton's behavior is especially disappointing because he often speaks eloquently about the importance of every citizen's right to live free from discrimination, and convincingly argues for increasing the nation's awareness about issues such as AIDS. For instance, he recently named a White House liaison to the gay and lesbian communities, and he also appointed a task force to advise him about matters related to AIDS and the virus that causes it. When, preposterously, White House guards donned latex gloves to welcome a delegation of gay elected officials to a meeting about improving relations with the gay community, Clinton wrote a letter to the lawmakers apologizing for "the inappropriate and insensitive treatment."

So how is it the president can jump to decry an act that symbolizes the depth of ignorance regarding AIDS, yet cower when faced with matters that symbolize the depth of bigotry and hatred _ in the military and the nation as a whole _ for homosexuals?

It is easier, of course, to apologize for stupidity, or to designate a special liaison or name a special panel, than it is to stand strong against a political wind. Americans, especially those for whom persecution is a daily fear, need a president who can weather the storm. They need to know whether they can count on him, as they once hoped they could.

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