On Thursday evening, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that the discriminatory and counterproductive policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) violates the constitutional rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers. In clear and striking language in the 86-page opinion, Judge Phillips stated that DADT has a "direct and deleterious effect" on the armed forces, and issued a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the policy (a step almost certain to be fought by the government).
The ruling in the lawsuit, which was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, comes days before the ACLU of Washington will be in U.S. District Court for Western Washington on Monday, September 13, to challenge the dismissal of Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt under DADT. Maj. Witt is a decorated flight nurse and operating room nurse assigned to McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma. In 1993, she was selected to be the "poster child" for the Air Force Nurse Corps recruitment flyer. In 2003, she was awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal for saving the life of a Defense Department employee who had collapsed aboard a flight from Bahrain. Despite all of this, she was dismissed from the Air Force in 2006 because of her sexual orientation.
The ACLU of Washington filed suit on Maj. Witt's behalf. While it was originally dismissed by the district court, the case was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the Air Force must prove that dismissing a specific servicemember under DADT is necessary to ensure "good order, morale, and discipline" within the unit he or she served, rather than simply proving generally that DADT advances military readiness. The ruling turned the twisted and bigoted logic of DADT on its head. The case was returned to the district court for trial, which will be getting underway next week under this new standard of review, now known as the "Witt standard". Be sure to stay tuned to our website for developments in that case.
Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., the Senate is soon expected to take up legislation known as the National Defense Authorization Act, which contains language allowing for the repeal of DADT. The bill, and an identical repeal amendment, passed the House in May. While senators who oppose DADT have vowed a floor fight over the issue, they have a steep hill to climb in order to strip the language from the bill. They will need 60 votes in order to do so. Still, if there is anything that should be clear to even casual observers of the ways of Washington, it is to leave nothing to chance.