Originally published on Advocate.com September 09 2003 12:00 AM ET
An openly gay Marine reservist who said he failed to report for duty because he is a conscientious objector has been found guilty of unauthorized absence but innocent of desertion. Lance Cpl. Stephen Funk was sentenced Saturday to six months in prison and will receive a bad-conduct discharge, which results in his losing all military benefits. While he is in military custody, Funk's rank will be dropped from lance corporal to private, the lowest rank in the Marines, and two thirds of his pay will be docked for six months.
Lt. Gen. Dennis M. McCarthy, commander of the Marine reserves, must still approve the sentence. He can accept or reduce the sentence. "It seems a bit harsh for the crime," said Stephen Collier, Funk's lawyer, about the punishment. He said he would appeal to McCarthy for a lighter sentence.
The desertion charge accused Funk, 21, of "shirking important duty" for missing 47 days of service. His San Jose, Calif.-based unit was mobilized February 13 to load ships and cargo planes in San Diego bound for the Middle East. Funk said he became a conscientious objector after several months of being trained to kill. Funk, who attended antiwar rallies while absent and later announced that he is gay, has said the Marines were trying to make an example of him.
The Seattle native argued that he did not believe he was going to be required to go to San Diego because those who declare themselves conscientious objectors are usually separated from their unit. If so, he argued, then he would not have had to perform the "important duty." But the Marine prosecutor, Maj. Mike Sayegh, argued that during wartime, any presidential order to report for duty is important. Sayegh told a jury of an officer and three enlisted personnel that the case "is about a kid who thought he could beat the system."
"Does anybody honestly believe this marine, when he read the conscientious objector order, did not know of his obligation to report?" Sayegh said. "All of this conscientious objector stuff is nothing but a made-up bedtime story."
There were 27 other marines who declared themselves conscientious objectors to the Iraq war. Like Funk, all were transferred to New Orleans for processing but none of the others were prosecuted because they still reported for duty on time, the Marines said. Funk testified that he joined the Marines to earn money for college and that he did not think it likely he'd be activated for war.