DOJ says DOMA justified to prevent ‘inequities’

LGBT advocates disappointed in Obama administration’s decision to defend law that he favors repealing

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

The U.S. Department of Justice filed its brief Jan. 13 with a federal appeals court that will hear the government’s appeal of two district court decisions that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

The cases are Nancy Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, brought by Gay & Lesbian Activists & Defenders, and Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, brought by the state.

DOJ, led by Assistant Attorney General Tony West, argues that U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro in Boston erred last year in finding one section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

It also argues that “back-and-forth changes” such as those experienced by California concerning the recognition of same-sex marriages “have the potential to cause inequities in the operation of federal programs, and could result in administrative difficulties across a variety of federal programs.”

“Should [a federal] agency begin awarding benefits in response to court decisions that might later be overturned?” asks the brief. “How should the agency treat a couple who is married, then moves to a state where that marriage is not recognized? These questions highlight the administrative difficulties that federal agencies might face if federal law were automatically tied to state law in an area subject to substantial and sometimes rapid change.”

Mary Bonauto, civil rights director at GLAD, says the “touchstone is whether the marriage is valid under state law.”

“Even if a state reversed itself on marriage licensing for same-sex couples by passing an amendment, as happened in California,” said Bonauto, “that change does not affect the validity of the existing marriages.”

In response to the concern about same-sex couples moving from one state to another, said Bonauto, “The general rule is that if a couple is considered married in the state of their residence at the time they apply for a federal marital benefit, then they are married for purposes of that benefit even if they later move to a state that disrespects their marriage.”

Last July, Judge Tauro ruled, in Gill, that DOMA violates the equal protection and due process rights in the U.S. Constitution, and, in Massachusetts, that DOMA violates the 10th Amendment right to exercise control of certain state issues.

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, said he “regrets” DOJ “continues to defend a law that President Barack Obama has repeatedly said is discriminatory.”

“Also disappointing is that the Justice Department is urging the court to give this discriminatory law a presumption of constitutionality,” said Wolfson. “The Justice Department should be asking the courts to examine DOMA with skeptical eyes, not rubberstamp discrimination.”

DOJ’s brief argues that the appeals court should use only the most minimal standard — rational basis — in scrutinizing the reasons the government gives to justify DOMA’s ban on recognition of married same-sex couples when it comes to having access to federal benefits made available to married straight couples. It then claims that the rational justifications behind DOMA are:

  • to preserve a national status quo at the federal level regarding marriage,
  • to ensure “uniform application” of federal law regarding marriage benefits, and
  • to show respect for each state’s sovereignty in developing its own policy concerning marriage.

The latter justification will probably make for an interesting discussion before a three-judge panel of the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals later this year. The First Circuit is located in Boston, Massachusetts, which famously became the first state to honor its state constitutional mandate of equal protection with regards to the issuance of marriage licenses.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office argued, in its district court brief, that DOMA is not showing respect for the sovereignty of Massachusetts.

“Instead, Congress chose to force Massachusetts (and other States) to violate the equal protection rights of its citizens or risk federal funding,” argued Massachusetts’ brief. “That is not neutrality; rather, it significantly burdens the ability of States to adopt any definition of marriage that does not match the federal one. …”

But while arguing that Congress needs to show respect for each state’s sovereignty, DOJ also argues Congress “could” reasonably conclude that a “uniform federal definition for the purposes of federal law would most consistently address variations between states that permit same-sex marriage and those that do not.”

“Without DOMA,” said DOJ, “federal benefits would vary for same-sex couples from state to state.”

Of course, that’s true for heterosexual couples, too. Only those straight couples who are married are eligible to receive federal marriage benefits. But DOJ adds that “while it may be preferable as a policy matter for Congress to have provided the same benefits to all married couples, the uniform path that Congress chose was permissible.”

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was introduced by U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) and signed into law in 1996 by Democratic President Bill Clinton. Wolfson noted that both have since “repudiated” the law.

GLAD and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office both filed lawsuits challenging DOMA’s Section 3, which limits the definition of marriage for federal purposes to one man and one woman.

There are three other cases challenging DOMA now in the federal courts. GLAD and the ACLU also filed two other lawsuits challenging DOMA — Pederson v. OPM in a Connecticut federal district court and Windsor v. U.S. in a New York federal district court. Both of these cases, if appealed, will come before the 2nd District U.S. Court of Appeals. Lambda Legal Defense argued its case, Karen Golinksi v. OPM, in federal district court in San Francisco last month. In that case, Lambda’s Marriage Project Director Jenny Pizer is arguing that 9th Circuit court employee Golinski should be able to obtain health coverage for her same-sex spouse the same as other federal court employees can obtain for their spouses. OPM, headed by openly gay appointee John Berry, instructed the 9th Circuit’s employee insurance carrier not to enroll Golinski’s same-sex spouse for coverage. The case is awaiting a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White, an appointee of President George W. Bush.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Food Pantry needs help as demand soars

Resource Center service for people with HIV gets most of its stock from NTFB, but even NTFB doesn’t have some of the items they need

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Food pantry volunteers restock items
STOCKING UP | Food pantry volunteers restock items in the refrigerator as the pantry gets ready to open on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Food pantry manager Micki Garrison said budget cutbacks have made the pantry even more dependent on volunteers. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

What’s on your menu for Thanksgiving? Probably a turkey. Or maybe a ham, or a pot roast. You will most likely have some stuffing or dressing, and plenty of vegetables. Add to that a slice of pie or cake for dessert, and your stomach will be plenty full when you move to the living room to settle in front of the TV to watch football.

If so, then you are one of the lucky one. There are plenty of people out there who would be thankful to have a can of soup as their Thanksgiving meal.
“According to a report just released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas is the second-hungriest state in the country,” said Micki Garrison, manager of Resource Center Dallas’ food pantry for people with HIV/AIDS. “The number of people going hungry in Texas is over 17 percent. That’s higher than the national average, which is 14 percent.”

And Garrison had some more sobering statistics to offer up. She noted that the food pantry is “closely tied” to the North Texas Food Bank, getting most of its stock there, and that with the recession lingering on, NTFB has itself been struggling to keep up with demand.

“Demand on the North Texas Food Bank is up 20 percent and donations are down 12 percent,” Garrison said.

Although Texas hasn’t been hit as hard as some states during the economic crisis, those on the lower end of the income scale — food banks’ usual clients who already had to stretch to try and make ends meet — have definitely felt the impact. Those who were scraping by before now have to ask for help, and those who already needed help now need even more.

And with the holiday season upon us, the situation will likely get worse.

“We usually serve between 600 and 800 clients a week. During the holidays, that will go up to 1,000 to 1,200 a week,” Garrison said. “We go through five to 10 tons a food each week. It’s a massive undertaking.”

Daniel Sanchez, nutrition center coordinator, said, “Just yesterday, we had 125 people through here in the first hour we were open.”

One thing the food pantry won’t be able to do this year, though, is provide its clients with turkeys for their holiday meals.

“In the past, we have been able to give each client a turkey for the holidays. But we just can’t do that this year,” Garrison said. “We just can’t afford it.”

While all food banks are struggling to keep up, Garrison and Sanchez said that their food pantry faces special battles because their clients all have HIV/AIDS.

“If you are HIV-positive and unable to work, you are probably already dealing with Social Security or disability, and you are probably facing tremendous medical expenses,” Garrison said. “A lot of our clients are struggling every day to make some really touch choices, like choices between buying food or buying their medications, between buying food or paying the rent and the bills.

“A lot of people have to make those choices, yes. But what makes it even more difficult is that for people with HIV, food is medicine. You just can’t take that regimen of medications that HIV-positive people have to take if you don’t have any food in your stomach,” she said. “It’s our mission to do as much as we can for them so they don’t have to make those choices. We can’t meet all their needs, but we do our best to meet as many as possible.”

There is another problem, too: the kinds of foods available at the pantry.

“We have a lot of clients who are feeling bad a lot of the time, and they just aren’t up to cooking a big meal for themselves,” Garrison said. “They just want to be able to open a can of soup and heat that up. Something easy.

“And a lot of our clients experience homelessness. If they come here and we give them a bag of dried beans and some raw chicken, they have no way to cook that. It doesn’t do them any good,” she said.

That’s why, Sanchez said, donations from the community are particularly helpful for the pantry, especially when those donations come in the form of easy-to-prepare items. Canned meats — like tuna, chicken, chili or Spam — are especially welcome, along with canned soups and ramen noodles, canned fruits and vegetables, boxed cereals, dry staples like rice, beans and pasta, juices and condiments.

“Things like that that are really helpful for our clients are the kinds of things we can’t get a lot of from the food bank,” Garrison said. “Getting cash donations is great. I mean, if someone goes to the grocery store and spends a dollar on a can of corn to donate, it’s great. But for that same dollar, I can get five cans of corn.

“Still, I can’t get those other things — the soups and stuff — from the food bank. So we need those donations from the community. We need all the donations, all kinds of donations,” she said.

Sanchez added that the food pantry also needs donations of time. Budget cutbacks have impacted staffing capabilities, which means there is a lot of work available for volunteers.

“We especially need volunteers during the holiday season,” Sanchez said.

Garrison added, “We need people to get the things we can get from the food bank. We need people to donate money. We need people to donate their time. We just ask that people find out how they can best fit into that structure.

“This food pantry is all about the community and how the community can show its love,” she said. “All we are is a vessel for the love of the community.”

Resource Center Dallas Food Pantry is located at 5450 Denton Drive Cutoff in Dallas. The pantry is open noon to 7 p.m. on Mondays, and noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. The pantry is closed Fridays through Sundays. Donation drop-off hours are 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Mondays, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. For information, call 214-521-3390.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

U.S. Department of Education warns schools that anti-gay bullying can violate civil rights laws

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

“It Gets Better” has been a success. Videos and public appearances by people like Councilman Joel Burns led to videos by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A transgender North Dallas High School student’s attempt to run for homecoming queen ended with a rally of support at her school as well as an appearance on MTV.

Many young people have gotten the message but so have school districts and even the U.S. Department of Education.

The education department announced Tuesday that school districts that do nothing to combat bullying will lose money. The letter said the guidelines “do include protection against harassment of members of religious groups based on shared ethnic characteristics as well as gender and sexual harassment of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender individuals.”

The announcement also said that the White House will convene a conference on bullying early next year.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said:

“Bullying is a problem that shouldn’t exist. No one should ever feel harassed or unsafe in a school simply because they act or think or dress differently than others. To every student who feels threatened or harassed—for whatever reason—please know that you are not alone. Please know that there are people who love you. And please know that we will protect you.”

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Government seeks emergency stay of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ ruling from appeals court

The U.S. Department of Justice earlier today asked a federal appeals court for an emergency stay of a district judge’s order halting enforcement of “don’t ask don’t tell,” Politico reports.

DOJ attorneys have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to rule on the request by tonight.

In other words, if you’re gay and you want to enlist in the military, we’d suggest you hurry up and do it.

Here’s the full text of the emergency stay request:

PPM143_101020_dadt_stay

—  John Wright

DOJ appeals injunction halting DADT

Advocates warn LGBT servicemembers not to come out until questions are settled

From Staff and Wire Reports

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday, Oct. 14 asked a federal district judge to allow the military to continue enforcing “don’t ask, don’t tell” pending the government’s appeal of her ruling declaring the policy unconstitutional.

The request came two days after U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction Tuesday, Oct. 12 ordering the Department of Defense to halt enforcement of DADT worldwide.

The DOJ, which is defending the 17-year-old ban on open service, on Thursday asked Phillips to stay the injunction pending its appeal of her September ruling.

“As the President has stated previously, the Administration does not support the DADT statute as a matter of policy and strongly supports its repeal,” the justice department told Phillips. “However, the Department of Justice has long followed the practice of defending federal statutes as long as reasonable arguments can be made in support of their constitutionality, even if the Administration disagrees with a particular statute as a policy matter, as it does here.”

If Phillips denies the request for a stay of the injunction, the DOJ can request an emergency stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which will hear any appeal.

The DOJ has 60 days from the time of Phillips’ injunction to appeal her ruling.
Representatives from Log Cabin Republicans, which brought the lawsuit, and other groups advocating for DADT repeal warned LGBT servicemembers against coming out in the wake of Tuesday’s injunction.

Christian Berle, deputy executive director for Log Cabin Republicans issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying his organization had “expected that the Obama administration would continue to pull out all the stops to defend ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’” But, Berle pledged, “Log Cabin Republicans will continue to advocate on behalf of the American servicemembers who everyday sacrifice in defense of our nation and our Constitution.  If this stay is granted, justice will be delayed, but it will not be denied.”

Berle said Log Cabin Republicans are urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to “do what it takes” to repeal DADT when Congress reconvenes after the midterm elections in November.

“If Sen. Reid treats the minority party fairly, the votes will be there to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ once and for all,” Berle said.

Although the House of Representatives voted this summer to repeal the policy, as an amendment to a Department of Defense spending bill, the measure died in the Senate last month when supporters could not get enough votes to end a Republican filibuster.

Republicans launched their filibuster in protest after Reid added an amendment to the bill dealing with immigration and refused to allow Republicans to add amendments from the Senate floor.

Even though Phillips’ injunction barring enforcement of DADT remains in force, at least for the time being, David Guy-Gainer of Forest Hills, a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said his group is urging closeted servicemembers to act with caution.

“If you look at it in terms of gay marriage in California, you remember that sliver of time [between the Supreme Court ruling overturning the state’s ban on gay marriage] and the passage of Proposition 8 [which amended the Constitution], there were couples who were legally married in California. And even after Prop 8 passed, those marriages held up. They are still legal,” Guy-Gainer said.

“There is a chance there could be a window like that created in this case,” he continued. “But it’s too risky. If you have a gay servicemember who stands up while this injunction is in force and tells his commander, ‘Hey, I’m gay,’ and then the injunction is lifted, well the commander isn’t going to just forget that.

“Despite the injunction, we can’t confirm that they have actually stopped discharges, so it’s just too risky to actually come out,” Guy-Gainer said.

Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, criticized the White House for appealing the injunction.

“I am very happy that the judge followed through on her decision and issued the injunction. But I think it is very sad that our ‘fierce advocate,’ President Obama, has filed an appeal, which is contradictory to his claims that he wants the law repealed,” Schlein said.

Rich Hisey, a former M.P. in the U.S. Army who is also a member of Log Cabin Dallas, said he feels “really good, very pleased” about Phillips’ ruling in the case and her injunction against DADT, despite the appeal.

“I think this is a big victory for Log Cabin Republicans, and a big victory for the gay community as a whole,” Hisey said. “It’s been a long, long road. But we’re finally getting close to the end.”

Still, Hisey said, he, too, warns gay and lesbian servicemembers to be “very, very cautious right now.”

“I served three years in the Army, in the military police, back in the 1980s. That was a very different time, and I was closeted the whole time I was in the military. Things are different now, but I think if I were in the military now, I would stay in the closet for a while longer at least. I think everything is still up in the air, and it is still too risky to come out,” Hisey said.

Hisey also echoed Schlein’s frustration with Democrats’ failure to repeal DADT, despite their pledges to do so.

“Obama has not shown any leadership, and he still continues to push the DOJ to appeal this ruling,” Hisey said.

“My real frustration is with the Democrats in the Senate. We had a golden opportunity last month to repeal DADT, but Harry Reid played politics with it and added the Dream Act to the bill, even though he knew it wouldn’t pass. That really bothers me.”

Senior White House officials have said the president wants to end DADT, but believes the change should come through Congress and not through the courts.

Shortly after the appeal was filed Thursday, President Obama sent out a notice on Twitter, reiterating his opposition to DADT and renewing his pledge to end the policy.

“Anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces and make sacrifices on our behalf should be able to,” the president Tweeted. “DADT will end & it will end on my watch.”

The bill passed by the House calls for repeal of DADT, but only after the completion of a Pentagon study that includes a survey on how servicemembers and their family members feel about repealing the policy. That study is due Dec. 1.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

BREAKING: Government to request stay of injunction halting enfocement of DADT

The U.S. Department of Justice was expected to ask a federal judge on Thursday afternoon to allow the military to continue enforcing “don’t ask don’t tell” pending the government’s appeal of a September ruling declaring the policy unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction Tuesday, Oct. 12 ordering the Department of Defense to halt enforcement of DADT worldwide. In September, Phillips ruled that DADT violates servicemembers’ constitutional rights to free speech and due process.

The DOJ plans to appeal Phillips’ ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and on Thursday government lawyers were expected to request a stay of the injunction pending the appeal, according to The Advocate. The appeal must be filed within 60 days.

If Phillips doesn’t grant their request for a stay, DOJ attorneys likely will ask for an emergency stay from the appeals court.

—  John Wright

Despite court order, the military is still enforcing ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ — at least in Texas

Omar Lopez, who was kicked out of the Navy in 2006 for “homosexual admission,” tried to re-enlist on Wednesday but was turned away at a recruiting office in Austin.

Sometime Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice reportedly will request an emergency stay of Tuesday’s federal district court ruling ordering the military to halt enforcement of “don’t ask don’t tell.” And in the meantime, it would appear as though the Department of Defense is openly defying the ruling, perhaps putting the federal government in contempt of court. The New York Times reported Thursday:

But with the ultimate fate of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule still unclear, some celebrations are being delayed.

With a briefcase full of commendations under his arm, Omar Lopez walked into an Austin, Tex., recruiting office Wednesday. Mr. Lopez, 29, had served nearly five years in the Navy. He was honorably discharged in 2006 for “homosexual admission,” according to documents he carried. He wanted to re-enlist.

But recruiters turned him away hastily, saying they had no knowledge of any injunction or any change in military policy.

“I like the civilian world, but I miss it,” Mr. Lopez said of the military, as he arrived with a worker for Get Equal, a gay rights advocacy group. “I feel lost without it.”

The NYT report prompted a letter from the attorney for Log Cabin Republicans, which brought the lawsuit, to the Department of Justice:

“Please let us know immediately what steps the government has taken to communicate the terms and requirements of the Court’s order to military personnel, including field commanders and military recruiting offices, who are in a position to violate the requirements of the injunction under the cover of ignorance of its terms or existence,” wrote LCR attorney Dan Woods.

—  John Wright

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ injunction now up to judge

JULIE WATSON  |  Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — U.S. government lawyers are trying to stop a federal judge from issuing an injunction that would immediately do what President Obama has yet to accomplish so far in his first term: Halt the military’s ban on openly gay troops.

Now it is up to U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips to decide if she is willing to do that.

The White House says the legal filing Thursday, Sept. 23 by the U.S. Department of Justice attorneys in a federal court in Riverside follows government procedure by defending an act of Congress that is being challenged, but it does not detract from the president’s efforts to get ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repealed.

“This filing in no way diminishes the president’s firm commitment to achieve a legislative repeal of DADT — indeed, it clearly shows why Congress must act to end this misguided policy,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

Phillips declared the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unconstitutional in her ruling Sept. 9 following a three-week, non-jury trial and said she would issue a nationwide order to stop the ban. She asked both sides for input first.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the gay rights organization that filed the lawsuit to stop the ban’s enforcement, wants her to issue an order that would stop the policy from being used to discharge any U.S. military personnel anywhere in the world.

Their attorney, Dan Woods, called the Department of Justice’s objections to the possible injunction hypocritical. He said the administration should be seizing the opportunity to let a judge do what politics has not been able to do.

“It’s sad and disappointing that the administration would file such a document days after it urged Congress to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,”’ Woods said.

In their court filing Thursday, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys argued the possible move would be “untenable” and that Phillips would be overstepping her bounds by halting a policy under debate in Congress.

Instead, she should limit any injunction to the 19,000 members of the Log Cabin Republicans, which includes current and former military personnel, the lawyers said.

“A court should not compel the executive to implement an immediate cessation of the 17-year-old policy without regard for any effect such an abrupt change might have on the military’s operations, particularly at a time when the military is engaged in combat operations and other demanding military activities around the globe,” federal attorneys said in their objection.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members. Under the 1993 policy, service men and women who acknowledge being gay or are discovered engaging in homosexual activity, even in the privacy of their own homes off base, are subject to discharge.

In her ruling, Phillips said the policy doesn’t help military readiness and instead has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services by hurting recruiting during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members with critical skills and training.

—  John Wright

Federal judge declares DADT unconstitutional

READ THE FULL TEXT OF THE RULING

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

A federal judge in California on Thursday declared the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unconstitutional, saying it violates both the First Amendment rights to free speech and the Fifth Amendment rights to due process in the U.S. constitution.

The 85-page memorandum opinion came in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S, a six-year-old lawsuit that has received little media attention compared to most other gay-related trials. The bench trial in Riverside, Calif., in July was overshadowed by a much more high-profile challenge of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, in federal court in San Francisco.

U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips presided over a two-week-long trial that began July 13 and included many witnesses testifying about the history of DADT and the injury it has caused. Phillips, 52, was appointed to the federal bench in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, who signed DADT into law in 1993. LCR filed its lawsuit against the policy in 2004.

“As an American, a veteran and an Army reserve officer, I am proud the court ruled that the arcane ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ statute violates the Constitution,” said Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper.  “Today, the ruling is not just a win for Log Cabin Republican servicemembers, but all American servicemembers.”

The opinion strikes down the 1993 law that bars from the military any servicemember who engages in “homosexual conduct,” has a “propensity” to do so, or even just states that he or she is a “homosexual or bisexual.”

Phillips’ decision, which has not yet been officially “entered,” could include an injunction against further enforcement of DADT by the government but will almost certainly be stayed and appealed to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Phillips granted plaintiffs Log Cabin until Thursday, Sept. 16, to submit a proposed judgment granting an injunction. After that, the Department of Justice will have seven days to respond with objections.

Log Cabin brought the lawsuit on behalf of many of its members who it said are being denied their constitutional rights. The group specifically identified only two members at trial: Alexander Nicholson, a former U.S. Army Human Intelligence officer who was discharged under DADT and now serves as head of Servicemembers United; and John Doe, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves concerned he may face discharge under the policy.

“This is a historic moment and an historic ruling for the gay military community,” Nicholson said in a statement Thursday night. “As the only named injured party in this case, I am exceedingly proud to have been able to represent all who have been impacted and had their lives ruined by this blatantly unconstitutional policy. We are finally on our way to vindication.”

The Department of Justice tried repeatedly to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming LCR has no legal standing to serve as plaintiffs. It also tried to have the judge decide the case without hearing testimony from LCR’s witnesses. And it tried to have the judge postpone the trial, arguing that Congress has a measure pending that could significantly affect the DADT law.

That measure is still awaiting action in the Senate as part of a Defense spending bill that is likely to see action later this month. There seems little doubt that the judge’s opinion will now be the subject of the debate around that measure. But Judge Phillips refused to delay action on LCR’s lawsuit, noting that the DADT repeal measure — as it is currently worded in Congress — does not guarantee repeal of DADT. Instead, the legislation requires a sign-off procedure involving the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The likelihood the bill would lead to repeal, said Phillips at trial, is “remote, if not wholly speculative.”

Phillips noted that evidence considered at trial, including three historic studies concerning gays in the military, did not identify any legitimate reasons for barring gays. The 1957 Crittenden Report, she said, “is not evidence that discharge of homosexual servicemembers significantly furthers government interests in military readiness or troop cohesion.” The 1988 PERSEREC Report “generally dismisses traditional objections to service by homosexuals in the military as abstract, intangible, and tradition-bound.” And the 1993 Rand Report concludes, “no empirical evidence exists demonstrating the impact of an openly homosexual servicemember on the cohesion of any military unit.”

Using tables of data to demonstrate a point made at trial by DADT opponent Nathaniel Frank, Phillips showed how the military discharged increasing numbers of servicemembers for homosexuality from 1994 to 2001, but that the number “fell sharply” beginning in 2002 as the U.S. began fighting in Afghanistan. In 2001, according to the data, the military discharged 1,227 people for being gay — the largest number per year since DADT went into effect. But in 2002, the number of discharges dropped to 885. Last year, only 275 were discharged.

She also cited data submitted by Log Cabin Republicans’ attorneys showing the Defense Department often suspended investigations of servicemembers it believed to be gay until after the servicemembers had completed their tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. DOD, she noted “deployed servicemembers under investigation … to combat missions or, if they were already so deployed, delayed the completion of the investigation until the end of the deployment.”

“This evidence, in particular, directly undermines any contention that [DADT] furthers the Government’s purpose of military readiness, as it shows [DOD officials] continue to deploy gay and lesbian members of the military into combat, waiting until they have returned before resolving the charges arising out of the suspected homosexual conduct.”

“Taken as a whole,” wrote Phillips, “the evidence introduced at trial shows that the effect of the Act has been, not to advance the Government’s interests of military readiness and unit cohesion, much less to do so significantly, but to harm that interest.“

In her decision, Phillips noted that the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals addressed a similar case, Cook v. Gates, and came to a different opinion and upheld the law. But Phillips said she found the 1st Circuit’s reasoning “unpersuasive” and noted that she, within a 9th Circuit court, is not bound to follow it.

Phillips, however, indicated she was bound to follow a precedent of her own 9th Circuit, rendered in another challenge to the DADT policy and brought by an Air Force nurse, Margaret Witt, in Seattle. On a preliminary matter in that case, the 9th Circuit ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas recognized a fundamental right to “an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.” Infringement on a fundamental right requires a law to pass a “heightened” or more stringent judicial review.

The Witt v. U.S. case is scheduled for trial beginning Sept. 13 in the U.S. District Court for Tacoma, Wash.

Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights which is pressing the case against Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage in California, said the Log Cabin decision “is yet another significant and long-overdue step toward full equality for all Americans.

“It is clear,” said Griffin, “that our nation is moving toward the day when every American will be treated equally under the law, as required by our Constitution.”

Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said: “We’re pleased by the judge’s decision, but this decision is likely to be appealed and will linger for years. Congress made the DADT law 17 years ago and Congress should repeal it. The Senate will have the opportunity to do just that this month and most Americans think the Senate should seize it.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said he hopes the ruling will help spur Congress.

“Today a federal judge affirmed what the vast majority of the American people know to be true — that it’s time for the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law to be sent to the dustbin of history,” Solmonese said. “With this legal victory in hand, Congress is right now in a perfect position to strengthen our national security by ending a law that has discharged thousands of capable service members. With House passage already secured, the Senate can and should vote in the next few weeks to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and allow every qualified man and woman the chance to serve with honor.”

Online editor John Wright contributed to this story.

© 2010 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

DOMA ruling suspended pending appeal

Associated Press

BOSTON — A ruling by a judge who found a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman unconstitutional will be suspended for 60 days while the U.S. Department of Justice decides whether it will appeal the decision.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in July that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

An amended judgment in the case was filed in court Wednesday. The Justice Department now has 60 days to decide if it will appeal the decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Boston-based group that filed the legal challenge, said it did not oppose the government’s request for a stay pending any appeal.

—  John Wright