On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips issued a worldwide injunction banning enforcement of the discriminatory and counterproductive policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). Tuesday's order followed a September ruling by Judge Phillips that found DADT to be an unconstitutional violation of the due process and free speech rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. In an article in Tuesday's New York Times, the newspaper called the decision a "significant milestone for gay rights in the United States."
The injunction also comes on the heels of an important and timely legal victory by the ACLU of Washington challenging the dismissal of Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt. The first breakthrough in that case came in 2008 when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Air Force must prove that discharging Maj. Witt was necessary for purposes of military readiness. At a six-day trial in September, the government was unable to meet this standard, and Maj. Witt was ordered to be reinstated into the Air Force.
These court decisions represent huge steps forward for LGBT rights, and are certainly worthy of celebrating. They are a clear indication of a turning tide away from those who would continue to treat LGBT individuals as second-class citizens, unworthy of equal justice and protection under the law.
As wonderful as these legal milestones are, there remains a critical role to be played by members of Congress. They are most assuredly not off the hook. The House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee have already acted to allow for a repeal of DADT. The one major hurdle left to be overcome is a vote by the full Senate. There is simply no reason why Congress should not or cannot act this year to put the final nail in the coffin of DADT.
Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified earlier this year:
"…we have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."
All of the men and women in the armed forces deserve the opportunity to serve with honesty and integrity, and that includes those who are lesbian, gay and bisexual. Please join with the ACLU in urging Congress to finish the job of repealing DADT this year.