ACLU suing Pentagon over separation pay for gays
The Pentagon is facing a new legal challenge over its policy on gays serving in uniform. This time it's the American Civil Liberties Union, suing to change the military's policy on the amount of separation pay given to service members discharged for being gay.
The group is representing former Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Collins, who said he wants what is given to other service members forced to leave involuntarily.
At issue is a Defense Department policy that cuts in half the separation pay of service members who have been honorably discharged for being gay after at least six years of service. The policy began in 1991, two years before the "don't ask, don't tell" policy" was formalized, and could be changed without Congressional approval.
Collins, who was stationed at an air base in eastern New Mexico, was honorably discharged in March 2006 for violating "don't ask, don't tell" after nine years of service. He received $12,351 in separation pay instead of the $25,702 he expected.
"The Obama administration has repeatedly said the 'don't ask, don't tell' statute is wrong, but that it needs to work with Congress to repeal the law," said Joshua Block, an ACLU staff attorney. "But the separation pay issue is entirely within the administration's control. The administration can at least take a preliminary step toward backing up its rhetoric with action by addressing this issue promptly and protecting gay and lesbian service members from needless additional discrimination."
The Justice Department and Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit opens up a new line of legal argument as gay rights activists signaled uncertainty this week about legislative efforts to lift the ban on gays in the military. Though the Senate could consider the issue during the lame-duck session that begins next week, it must also address several economic issues that could dominate most of the session. Senate leaders may strip language lifting the ban from the annual defense authorization bill, which lawmakers also are likely to consider.
The White House has said President Obama will not support a defense bill that doesn't include a repeal of the policy. Gay rights groups are likely to file several other lawsuits if Congress failed to end the ban this year.
A federal court case brought by the Log Cabin Republicans is under consideration by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. On Wednesday the Justice Department asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the Pentagon to keep enforcing "don't ask, don't tell" as the case continues. LCR on Monday asked the high court to end enforcement of the gay ban immediately and the justices could rule at any time.
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