A federal judge in Washington has
ordered the U.S. Air Force to reinstate Major Margaret Witt, a flight
nurse who was discharged in 2006 for violating “Don't Ask, Don't
Tell,” the military policy that allows gay and lesbian service
members to serve only so long as they remain celibate and closeted.
After a six-day trial, U.S. District
Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton found that Witt's sexual orientation
had not negatively impacted her unit's morale or cohesion as the
military had argued.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the
ACLU, represented Witt at trial.
“Today we heard the hammer of justice
strike for Major Margaret Witt,” Kathleen Taylor, executive
director of the ACLU of Washington, said. “We look forward to the
day when all members of our military can serve our country without
invidious discrimination. To discharge Major Witt simply because of
her sexual orientation was entirely unfair to her and unwise for the
military, which needs her significant skills.”
Witt was expelled from the military in
2004 for “homosexual conduct” after her commanders learned she
was involved in a lesbian relationship.
“I want to serve my country,” Witt,
a flight nurse with a distinguished 19-year career in the Air Force,
said. “I have loved being in the military – my fellow airmen
have been my family. I am proud of my career and want to continue
doing my job.”
“Wounded people never asked me about
my sexual orientation,” she added. “They were just glad to see
Groups lobbying for repeal cheered the
news of a second high-profile ruling against the policy this month.
“This is a stunning victory for Major
Witt and all gay and lesbian patriots serving our country today,”
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense
Network (SLDN), the largest group lobbying for repeal, said.
“Clearly federal courts are trending towards allowing gays and
lesbians to serve openly.”
“Yet another judge has taken yet
another righteous, historic, and courageous stand against
discrimination and unconstitutional law,” Alexander Nicholson,
executive director of Servicemembers United, said. “Major Witt's
case is a clear-cut one in which her discharge itself actually harmed
unit cohesion, morale, and combat readiness.”
Earlier this month, a
federal judge in California found the policy violated the
constitutional rights of gay troops. Obama
officials have argued that the ruling should be limited to members of
the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay GOP group behind the challenge.
Legislative efforts to repeal the law ran aground on Tuesday, when
Senate Republicans united to block passage of a defense authorization
bill, which includes language to end the 17-year-old law.
Sarvis added that the cases only serve
to demonstrate the need for Congress to act: “The favorable Witt
decision, like the Log Cabin Republicans ruling, only underscores the
urgent need for the Senate to take up repeal in the lame duck