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Pentagon orders open doors for gays

By PHIL STEWART
October 20, 2010

Lieutenant Dan Choi, a gay Army officer honorably discharged under the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, speaks to the media after attempting to re-enlist at the Times Square military recruitment station in New York October 19, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The Pentagon said on Tuesday it had told U.S. military recruiters to allow gays and lesbians to apply for service, as gay veterans tested a court order striking down the military’s ban on openly serving homosexuals.

California-based U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ordered the military a week ago to stop enforcing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and on Monday tentatively refused a Pentagon request to re-instate the 17-year-old ban.

Phillips issued a final decision late on Tuesday affirming her order.

Although government concerns about military readiness and cohesion are important, “these interests are outweighed by the compelling public interest of safeguarding fundamental constitutional rights,” she wrote in a six-page opinion.

A former Iraq war veteran who was discharged for revealing his sexual identity appeared on Tuesday at a recruiting station at New York’s Times Square to re-enlist, and obtained an Army application.

“In the recruiting station,” Daniel Choi wrote on his Twitter feed. “Apparently I’m too old for the Marines! Just filled out the Army application.”

The Obama administration is waging a legal battle to temporarily reinstate the Clinton-era policy, whereby homosexuals are allowed to serve in secret but are discharged if their sexual orientation is revealed. Before the policy was enacted in 1993, homosexuals were banned altogether.

President Barack Obama wants to push forward, however, a more deliberate repeal through Congress that would allow the Pentagon to grapple with complicated issues, like dealing with spousal benefits and housing for openly serving gays.

The legal limbo has put the U.S. military in an awkward situation: it is telling its forces not to “change their behavior” while the appeals process takes its course, while at the same time saying openly serving homosexuals must be treated the same as anyone else.

“Recruiters have been given guidance, and they will process applications for applicants who admit they are openly gay or lesbian,” said Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Choi is not alone. Last week, the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, protested a case of another openly gay veteran, Omar Lopez, who was reportedly turned away from a recruiting station in Austin, Texas the day after Phillips’ ruling. He had been discharged for being gay.

The Log Cabin group, which challenged the policy in court, said about 13,000 men and women in uniform had been expelled from the armed services under the policy since 1993.

The debate comes at a tough time for Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress who need support from the gay community, a key constituency, as they fight to hold off a possible Republican rout in the November 2 elections.

Republicans, many of whom fiercely oppose gays serving openly in the military, are seen as gaining from any hot-button social issues they can use to galvanize their conservative base at the polls.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Philip Barbara)

Copyright © 2010 Reuters

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One Response to Pentagon orders open doors for gays

  1. Keith

    October 20, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Sorry, Mr. Obama, but your “wait and see” approach is now being overcome by events.

    The US military should have seen all this coming, so their “we must study this to determine its effect on spousal benifits and the like” nonsense is just that….nonsense. Its simply a convenient excuse to use while they hope against hope that the whole issue will go away.

    The truth is that military lawyers have LONG recognized this “don’t ask, don’t tell” foolishness would eventually be declared unconstitutional. But the decision-makers in the Pentago have been just too busy killing people and breaking things to be bothered with such “umlilitary” issues as providing equal rights to a group of highly disenfranchised people within their own ranks.

    I strongly suggest all the homophobic foot-draggers at the Pentagon now try asking the 34 other countries in the world who ALREADY allow homosexuals to openly serve how THEY do it, stop making lame excuses and then get on with the task of MAKING IT HAPPEN.

    It ISN’T rocket science, guys.