A US federal court on Wednesday ordered the military to immediately lift its ban on gays serving openly in uniform, known as "Don't ask, don"t tell". The ruling comes as the government prepares to end the ban under a law adopted in December 2010.
AFP - A federal court ruled Wednesday the US military had to immediately stop enforcing a ban on gays serving openly in uniform, even as the government prepared to scrap the policy.
The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco decided the ban, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," must be lifted without delay, citing the administration's own arguments in other legal cases that discrimination against gays violated the US Constitution.
The ruling comes just as the administration prepares to end the ban under a law adopted in December and signed by Obama.
That law repealed the ban but required the top military officer, the defense secretary and the president to first certify that the change would not harm military readiness and that the armed forces were ready to carry it out.
Pentagon officials had said they expected the formal step of certification to come later this month, but the court ruling caught the Defense Department by surprise and the effect remained unclear.
"We are studying the ruling with the Department of Justice," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said in an email.
"We will of course comply with orders of the court, and are taking immediately steps to inform the field of this order."
Lawmakers voted in December to end the prohibition after the Pentagon issued a study that found a solid majority of troops were not bothered by the prospect of lifting the ban and that the military could implement the change without a major disruption or upheaval.
Meanwhile, a case filed by activists that argues the ban is unconstitutional has been working its way through the courts.
A federal judge in a lower court last year had ordered an injunction that barred the Pentagon from enforcing the ban, saying the policy violated fundamental rights.
But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had stayed the judge's ruling, giving the Obama administration more time to review the issue.
The court Wednesday reversed its earlier decision, granting a motion to activists to lift the stay.
The three-judge panel said "the process of repealing Section 654 (the ban) is well under way, and the preponderance of the armed forces are expected to have been trained by mid-summer," it said.
"The circumstances and balance of hardships have changed," and the government's argument was no longer persuasive for delaying the repeal of the law, it said.
In cases involving the Defense of Marriage Act, the court also noted that the US government had "recently taken the position that classifications based on sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny."
The ruling could have far-reaching consequences in other cases involving gay rights, analysts said, and it represented a victory for activists just two weeks after New York state lawmakers voted to make same-sex marriage legal.
"With the wait for certification dragging out beyond a reasonable time frame, the court has once again stepped in to require the Pentagon to stop enforcing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and this time it very well may be for good," said military veteran Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a plaintiff in the case.
Former soldiers and gay rights groups have fought for years to overturn the ban, which was introduced in 1993 as a compromise after military chiefs rejected a bid by former president Bill Clinton to open the doors to gay soldiers.
The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law required gay troops to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face the threat of expulsion.
Most US NATO allies have already lifted bans on openly gay troops and experienced no serious problems as a result.
Since the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was adopted in 1993, an estimated 17,000 service members have been kicked out of the military under the rule.
Date created : 2011-07-07