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Hats off Judge Phillips

Ryan Williams | Thursday, October 14, 2010

A federal judge recently took an enormous step towards correcting one of the most heinous injustices present in our society. On Tuesday, United States District Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction ordering the government to immediately cease enforcement of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding openly gay U.S. soldiers serving in the armed forces.

 

The policy, introduced as a compromise between Democrats and Republicans in 1993, stated that, while gay soldiers were forbidden from serving in the military, no one was to be asked about his or her sexual orientation, thus essentially allowing gay men and women to serve, so long as they did not reveal their sexuality. However, the law required that any soldier who did come out as openly gay while serving in the armed forces be immediately discharged from the military. Thanks to the courageous actions of Judge Phillips, no one will ever again be subjected to this egregious injustice.

 

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a bad policy and a bad law. Since the policy was enacted 17 years ago, more than 13,000 soldiers have been discharged for revealing their sexual orientation. In an era when this country is fighting multiple wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s not exactly a wise decision to disqualify any man or woman who is willing and able to serve, especially given the well-documented recruiting difficulties that the armed forces have faced in recent years. What’s more, many of the original architects behind “don’t ask, don’t tell” have since disavowed the policy or acknowledged that it is unjust and counterproductive.

 

Three current and former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff have come out against the policy, as has Defense Secretary Robert Gates (a Republican) and Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. In addition, the idea that having openly gay soldiers serving in the military would decrease troop morale and negatively affect unit cohesion has been definitively debased and refuted, as more and more people continue to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution and sacrifice that gay men and women have made to the defense of their country.

 

Conservatives will undoubtedly decry the ruling as yet another example of “judicial activism;” that is, of an unelected judge legislating from the bench and overturning the will of the people. It is a charge that has been leveled countless times throughout this nation’s history, by politicians on both sides of the aisle. These politicians have used the specter of “judicial activism” to attack such historic rulings as Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade and Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission. Most recently, the charge was lobbied at Judge Vaughn Walker, whose brilliant ruling in California nullified that state’s grossly unconstitutional ban on same-sex marriages. The truth is that judicial activism is not the monstrous evil that some politicians make it out to be. As evidenced by each of these rulings, it is often the only way in which the rigid partisanship of Congress can be overcome so that bad laws can be thrown out. In the case of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Congress attempted to hold a vote on repealing the policy several weeks ago, but obstructionist grandstanding and special interests prevented the bill from coming to the floor. Thanks to the courageous ruling of Judge Phillips, the 17 year wait for gay servicemen and women is over, and no one will ever again have to hide their true identity in order to serve their country in the military. Hats off to Judge Phillips, an extraordinary woman who was not afraid to stand up and do the right thing.

 

Ryan Williams is a recruit coordinator for the University. He can be reached at rwilli28@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.