The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gay members of the military is unconstitutional, a federal judge in California ruled Thursday.
Judge Virginia A. Phillips of Federal District Court struck down the rule in an opinion issued late in the day. The policy was signed into law in 1993 as a compromise that would allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve in the military.
The rule limits the military’s ability to ask about the sexual orientation of service members, and allows homosexuals to serve, as long as they do not disclose their orientation and do not engage in homosexual acts.
The plaintiffs challenged the law under the Fifth and First Amendments to the Constitution, and Judge Phillips agreed.
“The don’t ask, don’t tell act infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways,” she wrote. “In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the don’t ask, don’t tell act was necessary to significantly further the government’s important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden.”
The rule, she wrote in an 86-page opinion, has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services.
The plaintiffs argued that the act violated the rights of service members in two ways.