An openly gay reservist in the U.S. Marines who is facing a court-martial in New Orleans says he's being prosecuted for criticizing the military at antiwar rallies and for publicizing his application for conscientious objector status at a news conference. The Marines argues that it pursued charges against Lance Cpl. Stephen Funk because he skipped out on 47 days of training in defiance of orders by his commander. A pretrial hearing is scheduled Monday, when Funk's attorney, Stephen Collier, intends to ask a military judge to dismiss the charge of "shirking important duty" on the basis that Funk has been selectively targeted. "People go AWOL [absent without leave] all the time, and they don't get court-martialed," says Collier, who has represented military clients since the first Gulf War. "He's a conscientious objector who went public with his beliefs, and that's something that should be respected, not retaliated against."
There are 23 Marine reservists currently seeking conscientious objector status, which soldiers may do if they can prove that during their service they developed deep opposition to all wars. All of them have been transferred to New Orleans, home of the Marine Reserve headquarters, for processing. "Funk was the only one who didn't show up when his unit was being mobilized for the war, and he's the only one being prosecuted," Marine spokesman Capt. Jeff Poole says. "They told him, 'You'll be in trouble if you don't show up."'
Funk, 21, who says he joined the Marines because he wanted the discipline but acknowledges now that it was a mistake, also recently made public that he is gay. He thinks he has been treated unfairly because of his sexual orientation but says that was not a factor when he applied for conscientious objector status. "I could have just said that I was gay, and I would have been gone in three weeks, but it wouldn't have been honest," Funk said. "It's not why I'm opposed to being in the military. Certainly I'm oppressed in the military, but I can deal with that. That's a personal problem. But if I was forced to go to war...then I would be perpetuating oppression and violence against others. I can deal with people not liking me for who I am, but when I'm forced to do that toward others, I refuse."
At Monday's hearing, however, a Marine prosecutor is expected to ask the judge to disallow at trial any evidence of Funk's being a conscientious objector. Poole said the charges have nothing to do with that or the fact that Funk is gay. "We don't care why he didn't show up; we just needed him to show up," Poole says. Funk has been widely criticized on talk shows, even by some gays who believe he is undermining gays' ability to succeed in the military. But Funk said many soldiers respect him for speaking out against the war and for voicing his opinion that military training discourages freedom of thought and expression.