Legal Challenge to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Revived

On May 21, a federal appeals court ruled that servicemembers cannot be discharged for being gay.

A federal appeals court ruled on May 21 that the military cannot automatically discharge people just because they are gay. The ruling, from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, reinstated the lawsuit of Air Force Reservist Major Margaret Witt, a decorated flight nurse who challenged the armed services’ ban on gays and lesbians serving openly.

Although the ruling does not strike down the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the judges indicated that the policy merits heightened constitutional scrutiny. They said the Air Force must demonstrate that Witt’s dismissal furthers the military’s goals of troop cohesion and morale. The ruling calls for more fact-finding.

Witt, 42, joined the Air Force in 1987 and became a reservist in 1995, based near Tacoma, WA, and serving in the Persian Gulf. She shared a home in Spokane, all the way across the state, with a committed partner, a civilian woman, from 1997 to 2003. About one year after they broke up, the Air Force began an investigation into charges that she was a lesbian. She was honorably discharged in 2007.

In 2006, Witt sought a federal injunction to stay in the Air Force, but a federal court in Tacoma dismissed her case. She appealed to the 9th Circuit, which now has remanded her case to the original judge.

According to the Spokesman Review in Spokane, Witt today works as a physical therapist in the public school system, and recently applied for a job with the Veterans Administration.

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