Washington judge dismisses gay army challenge

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Gay rights advocates in Washington were dealt another loss this week when a federal judge dismissed a challenge to the military’s “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy brought by a highly decorated Air Force nurse who was forced out of her job because she’s a lesbian.

According to The Associated Press, Air Force Reserve Major Margaret Witt, 42, of Spokane asked US District Judge Ronald Leighton to reinstate her, citing a US Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law.

Mr Leighton refused and dismissed her case after finding that the Texas decision did not affect the constitutionality of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” the military’s policy prohibiting inquiries about the sex lives of service members but requiring the discharge of those who acknowledge being gay.

The AP reported that Ms Witt claimed that being discharged under the policy would violate her free-speech and due-process rights. Mr Leighton, however, rejected those claims.

The ruling came Wednesday, the same day the state Supreme Court upheld Washington’s ban on gay marriage.

“When it rains, it pours,” said Ms Witt’s attorney Doug Honig of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Major Witt is much decorated and has saved people’s lives. The people she helped didn’t care about her sexual orientation.”

Witt, a 19-year Air Force veteran who had been assigned to a medical evacuation squadron at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, was suspended without pay in late 2004 after the Air Force received an apparently anonymous tip that she had been in a long-term relationship with a civilian woman. Her discharge is pending; the Air Force has not yet scheduled a hearing she has requested to contest it.

“This court is not unsympathetic to the situation in which Major Witt currently finds herself,” Leighton wrote in his opinion. “Within the military context, she did not draw attention to her sexual orientation, and her colleagues value her contribution to their unit and apparently want her back. She has served her country faithfully and with distinction.”

However, he concluded, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state statutes criminalizing gay sex as a violation of an individual’s right to sexual privacy, had no effect on the constitutional analysis of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.” The policy has uniformly been upheld by the courts and remains valid, Leighton wrote.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell represents a rational response to a legitimate government concern,” the judge said, the AP reported.

That concern is to avoid risks to unit cohesion posed by the presence of gays in the military, he said. The Air Force Reserve did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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