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US officer discharged under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' to be reinstated as DOJ appeals

US Air Force Major Margaret Witt, who was discharged under the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) [10 USC § 654; JURIST news archive] policy, will become the first openly gay person to serve in the US military after the Obama administration Wednesday did not pursue a stay of a previous federal court decision ordering her reinstatement. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] appealed [text, PDF] the reinstatement order Wednesday, although the government has commented that the appeal is standard procedure [Metro Weekly report] and does not lessen President Barack Obama's commitment to repealing the policy. In September, Judge Ronald Leighton of the US District Court for the Western District of Washington [official website] relied on testimony regarding Witt's exemplary record in finding that her sexual orientation did not hinder her unit, and that she should be returned to duty [JURIST report] as soon as possible. The Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] has been representing Witt and struggling to secure her reinstatement [press release] for the past four years. Witt worked for almost 20 years as a military flight nurse and received numerous honors and medals for her service before she was discharged under the DADT policy when authorities discovered that she had been in a long-term relationship with a civilian woman.

The Obama administration filed a brief [text, PDF; JURIST report] earlier this month asking the US Supreme Court [official website] not to rescind the stay preventing suspension of the military's DADT policy. The filing was in response to a petition filed a week earlier [text; JURIST report] by the Log Cabin Republicans [advocacy website] asking the court to overturn the indefinite extension [order, PDF; JURIST report] of a temporary stay [JURIST report] issued by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website]. The government asked the court not to interrupt the policy while it is being considered in lower courts. The filing noted that Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [official profile] oppose the policy, but also stressed their support for the repeal of the policy through legislative measures, citing the need for deliberation, advance planning and training before transitioning from the 17-year-old policy. Also this month, Gates called on the 112th Congress to repeal DADT [JURIST report], and, in October, he issued a memorandum limiting the authority to discharge openly gay service members [JURIST report] to five senior Department of Defense officials. Since the enactment of DADT in 1993, approximately 13,000 servicemen and women have been discharged from the armed forces as a result of the policy.

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