A federal judge on Friday ordered the reinstatement of a decorated Air Force Reserve flight nurse who was discharged from the military under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bans openly gay service members.
In a judgment hailed by gay rights advocates, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton said Major Margaret Witt was “constitutionally” entitled to return to the job, from which she was discharged in 2007.
“Her discharge violated her substantive due process rights,” he said in a ruling on action brought by Witt against the U.S. Air Force in Tacoma, WA.
Leighton cited Witt’s exemplary career and performance evaluations as evidence that the Air Force was unharmed by her sexual orientation. In fact, he noted, former colleagues had testified that it was her dismissal that proved disruptive of the aeromedical unit’s mission, not her homosexuality.
“I want to serve my country. 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,” said Major Witt. “Wounded people never asked me about my sexual orientation. They were just glad to see me.”
Leighton observed at the conclusion of the trial that he was bound by a 2008 ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that said gays and lesbians couldn’t be fired from the military unless it shows their dismissal was necessary to further military goals.
During the trial, Witt claimed she adhered to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and never discussed her sexuality — she said she was outed against her will.
“Yet another judge has taken yet another righteous, historic, and courageous stand against a discriminatory and unconstitutional law,” said Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson.
“Today we heard the hammer of justice strike for Major Margaret Witt,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. ACLU of Washington attorneys have represented Witt since her case began in 2006.
The ruling is the second this month in which a federal judge has said the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violates the U.S. Constitution.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled the policy unconstitutional after a three-week bench trial. That challenge was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group that includes current and former military personnel. Phillips signaled during the Sept. 9 ruling that she would issue a nationwide order to stop the discharge of gays.
That injunction had been expected Friday, but late filings by the Justice Department appears to have delayed Phillips’ decision.