A brawl between several local Marines and three gay men outside a bar on Capitol Hill last weekend has prompted charges of gay-bashing from gay activist groups, and reopened old wounds between two groups that have a history of hostility toward each other.

The incident has led gay rights groups to organize a protest march for early next month, and gay activists and Marine officials are planning to meet next week to discuss the tensions.

Marine officials at the barracks at Eighth and I streets SE said yesterday that at least three servicemen have admitted being involved in the fight, and that the matter is under investigation. They said the incident was not a "gay bashing."

"A gay bashing would mean that someone was looking specifically for a gay person to attack, and my understanding is that the Marines were drunk, words were exchanged, and they did something very stupid," said Col. Peter Pace, commanding officer at the barracks. "I have no reason to believe it was anything more."

Although details are sketchy, police, witnesses and those involved in the fight say it occurred about 3 a.m. Sunday near Remingtons, a bar on Pennsylvania Avenue whose customers are predominantly gay. It began when a man who had left the bar and two Marines started to argue. The man arguing with the Marines was joined by another customer from Remingtons, who apparently tried to avert a fight. As the two gay men walked away, one of them was punched in the jaw by one of the Marines, witnesses said.

Within minutes, several other Marines and patrons of Remingtons joined the fray, in which three of the gay men were injured, including one bar customer who was knocked out during the melee.

Witnesses said that during the fight, the Marines used slurs aimed at homosexuals.

D.C. police at first were told that the Marines involved were stationed in South Carolina, but Pace said that Tuesday afternoon, three Marines at the Eighth Street barracks admitted they were involved.

Pace said that the servicemen gave statements to the police, who he said were still determining whether to recommend that charges be filed against the Marines. Police have said that they aren't classifying the fight as an anti-gay incident.

Pace said that if the police turn adjudication over to the Marine Corps, the men could receive anything from an official reprimand to a court-martial. "We first have to sort out the facts," he said.

Pace said that he and leaders in the gay community will meet next week to discuss last weekend's incident, as well as address concerns of gays on Capitol Hill who say they're frequently subjected to verbal and physical harassment from Marines.

Meanwhile, Oppression Under Target, a gay rights group, is organizing a "Take Back the Night" march for July 6, which will culminate with picketing in front of the Marine barracks.

Local gay activists say they aren't satisfied with the police department's handling of the case, and are afraid last weekend's incident has roiled simmering hostilities between gays and local Marines.

"Because of the historically hostile relationship between gays and Marines, I just cannot accept what the Metropolitan Police Department says," said Sue Hyde, of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "The reason people are so riled up about this is because it's been going on for 20 years."