Pentagon officials have proposed down-grading the punishment for the crime of adultery, a change that could bring the military more in line with civilian life, the New York Times reported Sunday.

A committee appointed by Secretary of Defense William Cohen drafted changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial that would result in fewer prosecutions and impose less serious discharge upon convictions, officials told the Times.The proposed changes now will be considered by Cohen, and President Clinton must give final approval.

Adultery would remain a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, just as it is a crime on the books in about half the states, and officers could still face dismissal if convicted.

But the new rules would urge commanders to file charges only when the adultery has disrupted the morale or smooth functioning of a military unit, officials said. Prosecution also would be discouraged for adulterous affairs in the past that don't affect current service.

For enlisted personnel, the maximum punishment for a conviction of adultery would be reduced to a bad conduct charge, instead of the more serious dishonorable discharge, which results in the loss of all benefits.