Twelve gay and lesbian veterans who were dismissed under the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to reinstate their lawsuit challenging the policy.
In arguments before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, they compared the policy to government-sanctioned discrimination against blacks.
“Systematically in the military today, gays are being harassed, hounded, harmed,” former Army Capt. James Pietrangelo II told the court. “This is segregation all over again.”
Gregory Katsas, a lawyer for the government, said the policy is a way to protect military unit cohesion and reduce sexual tension.
The three-judge panel did not immediately rule.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but requires discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or engaging in homosexual activity.
U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole threw out their lawsuit in April, citing the broad authority given to Congress in establishing the country’s military policies and the in-depth congressional hearings on the policy before it was established in 1993 under the Clinton administration.
The veterans say the policy violates their constitutional rights to privacy, free speech and equal protection. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network appealed O’Toole’s ruling on their behalf. The former service members are seeking reinstatement in the armed forces.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been upheld by appeals courts in several other jurisdictions but has never been ruled on by the 1st Circuit.