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Houston Chronicle Editorial

Nice to see from Texas. BTW, the Royal Navy not only accepts gays but actively recruits them. Not mentioned is that gays are widely accepted in the Israeli military and are present throughout the enlisted and officer ranks.


May 25, 2008, 9:58PM

Ask not …

A significant court ruling should signal an end to the military’s noxious “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

The nation’s focus is on our embattled armed forces this Memorial Day weekend. It’s worth noting that life might be changing for the better for several thousand servicemen and women, thanks to a federal appeals court ruling last week.

The court reinstated Maj. Margaret Witt’s lawsuit challenging her dismissal from the Air Force under the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. While the ruling does not strike down the policy, it strikes a blow to its future application and bodes well for more equitable treatment of gays in the military.

The policy allows gays and lesbians to serve as long as they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in homosexual acts. The rationale given for the policy, and one usually upheld by the courts, has been that accepting openly gay and lesbian service members would hurt troop morale and recruitment and undermine the cohesion of combat units.

Witt, a decorated flight nurse who cared for injured patients on military flights and in hospitals, most recently supported troops in Afghanistan. For six years, she lived with a civilian woman in Spokane, Wash., about 250 miles from her base, and kept the relationship private. After an anonymous tip to the Air Force about the relationship, she was suspended without pay and honorably discharged in 2007 after 18 years of service, two years shy of qualifying for retirement benefits.

In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that a Texas ban on sodomy was an unconstitutional intrusion on privacy. Witt sued the Air Force in 2006, but the court dismissed her claims, saying that the Texas ruling did not affect the legality of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But last week, the appeals court disagreed and reinstated her case, ruling that since the Supreme Court sodomy ruling, the government must prove an important government interest necessitating the intrusion on privacy.

That’s as it should be. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been an awkward compromise that followed then-President Bill Clinton’s attempt to force the Pentagon to allow gay soldiers to serve openly. Most European countries, including Great Britain, have lifted their bans on gay soldiers, with no ill effects. Four out of five American soldiers feel comfortable with gay comrades.

Disturbingly, Witt’s discharge came during a shortage of flight nurses, the Associated Press reported, and it outraged many of her colleagues. One of them, a sergeant, retired in protest.

As Americans salute the military today and the sacrifices its members make, it is worth remembering that their ranks include 65,000 or so homosexuals – and thousands more before them – who serve just as bravely and proudly as do all in the armed forces. Their sexuality should not be any more of an issue than that of their straight colleagues.

Witt said of the historic ruling: “I am thrilled by the court’s recognition that I can’t be discharged without proving that I was harmful to morale. I am proud of my career and want to continue doing my job. Wounded people never asked me about my sexual orientation. They were just glad to see me there.”

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