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Federal Appeals Court Strikes Blow to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Paul Cates,
LGBT Project
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May 22, 2008

Yesterday afternoon the Federal Appeals Court for the 9th Circuit dealt a significant blow to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The ACLU of Washington represents a decorated Air Force Major, Margaret Witt, who was discharged for being in a relationship with another woman.

Air Force Major Margaret Witt

In its decision, the court ruled that the Air Force must prove that discharging Major Witt is necessary for purposes of military readiness.While the court stopped short of striking down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it made it clear that following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the military has a much higher burden in justifying the ban:

We hold that when the government attempts to intrude upon the personal and private lives of homosexuals, in a manner that implicates the rights identified in Lawrence [v. Texas], the government must advance an important governmental interest, the intrusion must significantly further that interest, and the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest. In other words, for the third factor, a less intrusive means must be unlikely to achieve substantially the government’s interest.

While the case goes a long way toward ending the military’s discriminatory policy of barring gay people from openly serving in the military, it is also significant because it’s one of the first decisions to get right what the U.S. Supreme Court said in Lawrence: that our lives and relationships must be respected.It’s shameful that the military continues to enforce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This is one time where we shouldn’t wait for the courts. According to a CNN poll from May 2007, 79 percent of Americans think people who are openly gay or homosexual should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. Congress should end the ban now. Please take a moment to contact your senators and representatives. The Service Member Legal Defense Network makes it easy for you. Click here to tell Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

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