Court ends enforcement of ban on openly gay military service
A federal appeals court in San Francisco issued a ruling Wednesday that ends enforcement of the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, citing the Obama administration's recent determination that gays and lesbians have suffered a history of discrimination.
The statute known as "don't ask, don't tell" was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips in September, and a ban on its enforcement was imposed a month later. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Phillips' ruling, though, while it was being appealed and to allow the Defense Department time to prepare for integrating gays into the armed services.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court lifted that stay in a two-page order Wednesday, granting a motion brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights advocacy group that sued the federal government over "don't ask, don't tell" seven years ago.
The 9th Circuit order signed by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and two appointees of President Clinton cited recent changes in administration policy calling for "heightened scrutiny" of laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, like the Defense of Marriage Act, which deprives same-sex married couples of federal benefits.
"Gay and lesbian individuals have suffered a long and significant history of purposeful discrimination," the administration said last week in ordering equal treatment of the spouse of a lesbian lawyer who works for the 9th Circuit.
The appeals panel also noted that the Defense Department "is well under way" in its training of soldiers and sailors for the transition to openly gay service by mid-summer.
-- Carol J. Williams
Photo: Protesters against the "don't ask, don't tell" policy greet President Obama in Florida last year. Credit: Pat Carter / Associated Press