In an important ruling that could facilitate the beginning of the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Air Force Major Margaret Witt can have her day in court to challenge the military ban on lesbian and gay troops. In a decision released yesterday, the court found that the military may be able to maintain the federal law that bars open service by gay troops, but can only do so "to advance an important governmental interest."
It is clear, however, that dismissing qualified gay service members advances only the interest of prejudice and discrimination. As PFLAG board member, and retired Air Force Colonel, Dan Tepfer pointed out in his recent op-ed calling for the law's repeal, more than 12,000 troops have been fired from the armed forces since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was first implemented. And, as Tepfer noted, the law has a very real impact on families, too.
"Imagine . . . Before work, a military mom takes her pre-schooler to the base child-care facility," Tepfer wrote. "Before they hug good-bye, she reminds her child, as she does every day, 'Don't tell anyone, not even the other kids, about your mommy.' She knows an overheard comment could jeopardize her career."
Recruiting and keeping good troops - regardless of sexual orientation - makes for good family policy, too. Do the mothers and fathers who send their sons and daughters off to the warzone care whether the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine providing back-up and support to keep their child safe is gay or straight? Of course not. They just want the best person on the job. And that is borne out in Witt's experience, too.
"Wounded people never asked me about my sexual orientation," she said yesterday. "They were just glad to see me there."
And we should all be glad to see her there, too. Witt, who has been on duty for nearly 20 years in the Air Force, most recently served as a flight nurse. Her skill, talent and dedication was put to use every day saving lives and treating the sick. The 9th Circuit yesterday called Witt "an outstanding Air Force officer," and her record reflects it.
Every American with a loved on in the armed forces should celebrate Witt's important victory. Her battle to topple this very un-American law means that sons and daughters on the frontlines will be safer . . . and mothers and fathers at home can sleep a little better knowing that top-notch personnel like Witt are always there.
PFLAG congratulates Major Witt and her counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union. And we're looking forward to her day in court, where she will at last be able to make the case to end this law.
While the Major may be more accustomed to hospital rooms than court rooms, we'll also be glad to see her there.
Originally posted at the PFLAG National Blog.