'Don't ask, don't tell' appeals process continues
Updated 11:33 p.m.ET
Legal wrangling over the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy continued Monday, as the group suing to end it once again blasted the Obama administration's defense of the policy and another gay rights organization said the ban is indirectly responsible for the recent wave of suicides by gay teenagers.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a pro-gay group that is challenging the constitutionality of "don't ask, don't tell," filed papers Monday with the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in opposition to last week's decision by three of its judges to lift an injunction on the ban, which prohibits gays from serving openly in the military. The group criticized the Obama administration's legal arguments in defense of the ban and reiterated that the policy unfairly affects gay and lesbian troops.
The Justice Department "does not even attempt to refute the fact that the constitutional rights of current and prospective gay and lesbian service members will continue to be violated during any stay," said Dan Woods, a lawyer representing the Log Cabin Republicans. "It remains sad and disappointing that the government seeks to continue to enforce 'don't ask, don't tell' by its motion for a stay pending appeal, even as the President has repeatedly said that the policy 'weakens' our national security."
President Obama opposes the ban and wants Congress to repeal the law through legislation. Representatives from gay rights groups are expected to meet Tuesday with White House officials to discuss ongoing repeal efforts, according to administration officials.
"The Obama administration is putting paperwork ahead of the fundamental constitutional rights of service members," the Log Cabin Republicans' executive director, R. Clarke Cooper, said Monday. "This is just another in a long line of delay tactics from a president who has not missed an opportunity to defend this policy in court."
Four gay rights groups, Servicemembers United, the Palm Center at the University of California Santa Barbara, Lambda Legal and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), filed amicus briefs Monday in support of the Log Cabin Republicans. The groups represent gay and lesbian clients fighting discrimination or have studied the issue of gays in the military.
Lambda Legal argued that the government's continued enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell" "exacts an intolerably high cost" on the mental and physical health of gay and lesbian service members because they "must remain on constant high alert, self-policing every word, gesture, and glance that could arouse suspicion regarding their sexual orientation."
The policy is also indirectly affecting young gays and lesbians who face verbal or physical harassment for their sexual orientation, Lambda said, citing recent suicides by eight gay teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 19.
"The government cannot plausibly claim that its actions are unrelated to such tragedies and abuses, so long as it remains the nation's leading model for open discrimination against [gay and lesbian] people," Lambda said in court papers.
"It is absurd to pretend that the staggering rates of suicide among gay and lesbian teens that have been recently reported magically sprang into existence, without any connection to what adults are saying and doing," said Peter Renn, a Lambda Legal staff lawyer. "The government needs to take its head out of the sand and look around at the damage to which it is contributing."
The Pentagon and the Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment. But Lambda's charge comes after Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared last week in separate video messages as part of the It Gets Better Project, which is working to prevent gay teen bullying and suicides.
"There's definitely a link between 'don't ask, don't tell' and gay suicides," said SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. A client of his group who is being investigated for possibly violating the policy was placed on suicide watch last month, Sarvis said. SLDN's brief described the ordeal of three troops -- two of whom it did not identify by name -- who were discharged under the policy.
Three 9th Circuit judges last week issued a temporary stay to an injunction on "don't ask, don't tell," a move seen by legal observers as an opportunity for the military to continue enforcing the policy until the appeals court fully considers the Obama administration's legal arguments.
The Defense Department issued new guidelines after the ruling that assigned five senior military officials to determine when to discharge gay troops. The policy will remain in place until the law is repealed or settled by the courts, the Pentagon said.
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