The battle for the equal treatment of gays and lesbians in the United States received a boost yesterday after a judge in California struck down as unconstitutional the Clinton-era "don't-ask, don't-tell" policy banning homosexuals from serving in the military.
After presiding at a trial in July, Judge Virginia Phillips yesterday concluded that the ban was harmful to gays in the military. "The Act denies them the right to speak about their loved ones while serving their country in uniform," she wrote.
She granted a nationwide injunction against the policy – although that will not be implemented immediately so as to allow the government to consider and comment on the case.
The action was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights advocacy group. "We are delighted with the court's ruling in favour of Log Cabin Republicans in this important case," said its lawyer, Dan Woods.
And Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that has also lobbied Congress to end the ban, said: "It could well be the catalyst that is needed to drop some of the opposition we've seen."
But supporters of the ban voiced their disgust. "It is hard to believe a district court judge in California knows more about what impacts military readiness than the service chiefs," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
Gay-rights activists were hoping last night that even if implementation of the injunction is delayed, the ruling will reinvigorate efforts to pass the legislation in the Senate.
The court's decision is the latest in a small series of victories for the gay-rights lobby, which is accustomed to periods of success being quickly followed by bouts of disappointment.
Last month, the California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved measure banning same-sex marriage in the state. And earlier in the summer, a Boston judge declared the Defence of Marriage Act illegal. It was passed by Congress during the presidency of George W Bush and it denied federal rights to same-sex couples, even if they lived in a state which allowed them to wed.
Both cases are now expected to go to the US Supreme Court.
President Barack Obama earlier this year asked the US Congress to end the ban, which makes it impossible for members of the military to own up to their sexuality or conduct open relationships.
He received the conditional backing of the Defense Secretary Robert Gates. But while the House of Representatives approved legislation to end the policy, the bill has hit a roadblock in the Senate and any progress was clearly in jeopardy, not least with the prospect that Republicans may regain control of Congress in November.
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