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Judge upholds
discharge of lesbian Air Force nurse

Judge upholds
discharge of lesbian Air Force nurse

Dealing Washington State gay rights advocates another loss, a federal judge has dismissed a challenge to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy brought by a highly decorated Air Force nurse who was forced out of her job because she is a lesbian.

Air Force Reserve major Margaret Witt, 42, of Spokane, had asked U.S. district judge Ronald B. Leighton to reinstate her, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Texas sodomy law. Leighton refused and dismissed her case after finding that the Texas decision did not affect the constitutionality of "don't ask, don't tell," the military's policy prohibiting inquiries about the sex lives of service members but requiring the discharge of those who acknowledge being gay.

The ruling came Wednesday, the same day the Washington State supreme court upheld the state ban on same-sex marriage. "When it rains, it pours," said Doug Honig of the American Civil Liberties Union, which plans to appeal Witt's case to the ninth U.S. circuit court of appeals. "Major Witt is much decorated and has saved people's lives. The people she helped didn't care about her sexual orientation."

Witt, a 19-year Air Force veteran who had been assigned to a medical evacuation squadron at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, was suspended without pay in late 2004 after the Air Force received an apparently anonymous tip that she had been in a long-term relationship with a civilian woman. Her discharge is pending; the Air Force has not yet scheduled a hearing she has requested to contest it.

"This court is not unsympathetic to the situation in which Major Witt currently finds herself," Leighton wrote. "Within the military context, she did not draw attention to her sexual orientation, and her colleagues value her contribution to their unit and apparently want her back. She has served her country faithfully and with distinction."

However, he concluded, the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state statutes criminalizing gay sex as a violation of an individual's right to sexual privacy, had no effect on the constitutional analysis of "don't ask, don't tell." The policy has uniformly been upheld by the courts and remains valid, Leighton wrote. "'Don't ask, don't tell' represents a rational response to a legitimate government concern," the judge said. That concern is to avoid risks to unit cohesion posed by the presence of gays in the military, he said. (AP)

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