Gay groups and their supporters are applauding last week's
decision by Britain to lift its ban on homosexuals in the armed
The controversial move followed a ruling in September by the
European Court of Human Rights.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's government says it is "happy" to
comply with the court's judgment, but the opposition Conservative
Party hinted it might reconsider the issue if returned to power.
Conservative member of Parliament Iain Duncan Smith told the House
of Commons: "I believe that we should follow the advice of the armed
forces, which has always been that lifting the ban would adversely
affect operational effectiveness."
The implied threat chimed with what appears to be a developing
sense in other European capitals, that supranational laws and
regulations can be pushed too hard and too far.
Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon announced the end of the ban Jan.
12, adding that any personnel forced to leave the military for this
reason could apply for reenlistment. But service sources say Mr.
Hoon was acting against the advice of his military high command.
Senior officers in the Royal Navy, in particular, are said to be
hostile to the policy reversal.
Hoon also unveiled a new military code of conduct, warning that
disciplinary action would be taken if a personal relationship or an
individual's behavior damaged "efficiency or operational
effectiveness." He said the code, which bans public displays of
affection, would apply equally to all.
In a statement to the House of Commons, the lower house of
Parliament, Hoon made it clear that Britain had been forced into the
decision by the European Court of Human Rights.
As members of the 39-nation Council of Europe, Britain and its
continental neighbors are constitutionally bound to accept judgments
handed down by the human-rights court, headquartered in Strasbourg,
France. The 15 members of the European Union are also supposed to be
bound by judgments of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg -
in effect, the EU's supreme court.
But in the past few years, evidence has begun to pile up
suggesting that individual governments increasingly would prefer to
put their own national interests first, even if it means defying the
collective will of European institutions.
Currently, France is refusing to recognize a decision by the
European Commission (the EU's ruling body), that British beef is
safe to eat again, in the wake of a scare over "mad cow" disease. …