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Decorated veterans sue over ‘don’t ask’ discharges

Three decorated military veterans discharged because they are gay filed suit Monday in San Francisco seeking reinstatement and another federal court judgment that the Pentagon’s ban on openly gay and lesbian personnel in the military is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit should serve as “a shot across the bow” to put Congress on notice that if lawmakers fail to repeal the law, those who oppose it will turn to the courts for relief, said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips in Riverside declared the law unconstitutional in September and ordered an end to military discharges based on service members’ sexual orientation. But the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals suspended her ruling until appeals by supporters of the gay service ban have been considered.

The stay has left in place the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that has forced more than 14,000 discharges since it was enacted 17 years ago.

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Last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged Congress to repeal the law, saying his “greatest worry will be that we are at the mercy of the courts, and all of the lack of predictability that that entails.” But legislation to repeal it was blocked by Senate Republicans on Thursday.

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent, have introduced a stand-alone bill that would repeal the policy, but it is not clear whether it will come up for a vote before the Democrat-controlled Congress adjourns for the holidays. Republicans will have a majority in the House of Representatives when the new session convenes next year.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington-based nonprofit committed to ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of three men “who want nothing more than to put their uniforms on and get back overseas to serve their country,” said M. Andrew Woodmansee of the law firm’s San Diego office.

The suit was filed on behalf of Air Force veterans Michael D. Almy and Anthony J. Loverde, and former Navy Petty Officer Jason D. Knight. All three had been awarded numerous medals and commendations for their service before they were discharged.

carol.williams@latimes.com


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