The gay political group Log Cabin Republicans planned to file a lawsuit Tuesday in a federal district court in Los Angeles to overturn the U.S. government's "don't ask, don't tell" policy covering gays in the military. The "don't ask, don't tell" policy, put into place in 1993 during the Clinton administration, allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation and do not engage in homosexual acts.
Log Cabin members serving in the military asked the group's leaders over the past four months to take legal action, the group's attorney, Marty Meekins, said Tuesday. They did not come forward because of a specific incident but simply because "of fear of the military finding out their sexual orientation if they
are gay and lesbian," Meekins said. "This case is fundamentally about correcting a misguided governmental policy based on prejudice toward gay and lesbian Americans," he added.
While it's not the first challenge of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Log Cabin officials say they are encouraged by a historic Supreme Court decision in 2003 that struck down a Texas law that made gay sex a crime. The court, in the ruling, said that what gay men and women do in the privacy of their bedrooms is their business and not the domain of government.
In response to the Log Cabin suit, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said in a statement that the military implemented "don't ask, don't tell" because of a federal law that "would need to be changed to affect the department's policy."
Meekins denied there were political motivations behind the announcement, which came a day before a debate over domestic issues between President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry, and three weeks before the presidential election. The Pentagon under Bush has maintained the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy, while Kerry has said he would let gays serve openly in the military.
The lawsuit, against the government and Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, would have been filed sooner had the group and its lawyers been prepared, Meekins said. "The decision to file the lawsuit doesn't have anything to do with any election," added Log Cabin political director Christopher Barron. "We are a nation fighting a war on terror, and we need a policy that protects our national security."
A report earlier this year from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network found that 787 gays and lesbians were dismissed from the military over "don't ask, don't tell" in 2003, down 39% from 2001. The advocacy group said the decline was due mainly to U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The military has discharged nearly 10,000 people for violations of the policy since it first took effect, according to that report.