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Obama Admin Gives Lesbian Service Member Her Day in Court

On the heels of a week which saw the Obama Administration taking heat from the LGBT community for not being proactive on our issues, comes news that an Administration decision has set the stage for the most profound legal challenge yet to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, reporters Jess Bravin and Laura Meckler examine the decision by the Obama Administration to allow an important deadline to pass in the case of Witt v. United States Air Force. The lawsuit brought by Air Force Major Margaret Witt, a lesbian, challenges her dismissal from military service under the congressional “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law banning openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans from military service.

The Obama Administration’s decision to allow the appeals deadline to expire means the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case will stand and the proceedings will be remanded to the district court for trial. Once at trial the federal government will be forced to present, for the first time in open court, evidence supporting its position that a gay service member is a disruption to her unit’s good order and discipline. For the first time ever, the government’s argument supporting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be exposed to the light of day and to the ridicule of both the courts and the American people.

Major Witt, an 18-year Air Force veteran whose service led to commendations from former President George W. Bush and her picture being used in recruitment advertisements, was discovered to be a lesbian in 2003 and dismissed from the service in 2004. Her dismissal came one year shy of her pension assuring 20-year mark.

Initially, a district judge in Washington State ruled against Witt, despite the fact the government did not produce any evidence supporting their claim that Witt’s sexual orientation caused a disruption to her unit. Historically, courts have granted a great deal of deference to the military and accepted, at face value, claims that gays and lesbians are disruptive influences — courts have not required that evidence be produced to support those claims.

Witt and her lawyer, ACLU attorney Jim Lobsenz, appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals citing due process. The higher court agreed with Witt and directed the district court to retry the case, this time with the federal government providing evidence to support their claim that Witt’s sexual orientation threatens to disrupt her unit’s good order, discipline and cohesion.

This decision by the Obama Administration to accept the Ninth Circuit ruling is an important victory for gay rights activists who for the first time since 1993 will be able to see, in open court, the government’s “evidence” for keeping openly gay service members out of the military.

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Victor Maldonado

Victor Maldonado