US Military Accepts Openly Gay Recruits

Published on
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The Guardian/UK

US Military Accepts Openly Gay Recruits

'Don't ask, don't tell' policy suffers another blow, but activists still warn applicants not to reveal sexuality

by
Paul Harris in New York

A recruiting station in Times Square, New York. A judge ruled that the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy was illegal. Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

America's military yesterday began accepting openly gay recruits into
its ranks for the first time in its history as the controversial "don't
ask, don't tell" policy suffered another serious blow.

The move
comes after California judge Virginia Phillips ruled last week that the
policy – which had previously seen openly gay soldiers kicked out of the
US armed services – was illegal, and ordered a global injunction to
halt it.

Though the Obama administration
is seeking to appeal against that legal decision, the Pentagon has now
told its recruiters across the country to accept applications from
openly gay men and women.

However, the situation remains dogged by uncertainty. Some gay rights
activists have warned that gay applicants should still not reveal their
sexuality for fear that the policy may be reinstated if the
government's appeal is successful. At the same time, the Pentagon advice
to military recruiters directs them not to inquire of a person's
sexuality, and not to disqualify any candidates who openly admit to
being gay. It also adds that any such recruits should be warned that
"don't ask, don't tell" could come back into force if the legal
injunction quashing it is overturned.

"If they were to self-admit
that they are gay and want to enlist, we will process them for
enlistment, but will tell them that the legal situation could change,"
Douglas Smith, spokesman for US army recruiting command based at Fort
Knox in Kentucky, told the Associated Press.

Getting rid of "don't
ask, don't tell" has long been one of the main aims of gay rights
groups in America, who argue that it is highly discriminatory in a way
that would not be tolerated of any other social group. But it has now
become a political headache for the Obama administration.

The
president has frequently publicly committed himself to ditching the ban,
but has stated he wants it to be removed by a vote in Congress, not by
the actions of a judge. As such, the department of justice has committed
itself to appealing against the injunction halting the policy in the
hope of getting rid of it later with a political vote.

Many
Republicans, including former presidential candidate John McCain, have
spoken out in favour of keeping the ban. Previous attempts to ditch it
with a congressional vote have failed and Obama's political influence on
such a controversial subject is waning as Democrats gear up for a
potentially devastating defeat in November's midterm elections.

That
has left gay groups arguing that the best option to get rid of an
unjust practice is simply not to appeal against Phillips's ruling, which
the judge herself reinforced yesterday by refusing a government legal
request to delay enforcement of her injunction. That was met by further
delight among gay rights organisations.

"[We] applaud Justice
Phillips for her leadership helping end such a discriminatory policy,"
said a statement from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The
uncertain status of the law has caused much confusion within an
institution that has historically discriminated against gay people.
Before the 1993 law, the military banned them and declared them
incompatible with military service.

There have been instances in which gays have served, with the knowledge of their colleagues.

Twenty-nine
nations, including Israel, Canada, Germany and Sweden, allow openly gay
troops, according to the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group and
plaintiff in the lawsuit before Phillips.

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