WASHINGTON - The U.S. military rule banning openly gay people from serving in the armed forces violates constitutional rights to free speech and due process, a federal judge in southern California ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips said she would issue an injunction barring the government from enforcing the policy, and that the Justice Department would have the opportunity to appeal.
"Plaintiff has demonstrated it is entitled to the relief sought on behalf of its members, a judicial declaration that The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Act violates the Fifth and First Amendments," Phillips said.
The order came in a lawsuit against the government and Defense Secretary Robert Gates by the Log Cabin Republicans on behalf of some of its members.
The "don't ask, don't tell" policy was introduced by President Bill Clinton in 1993, overturning a previous policy of expulsion of gay service members based on the premise that homosexuality was compatible with military service.
The current policy allows homosexuals to serve in the military, but continues the long-time ban on homosexual acts and requires gay and lesbian service members to keep their sexual orientation private.
"The Act's restrictions on speech not only are broader than reasonably necessary to protect the government's substantial interests, but also actually serve to impede military readiness and unit cohesion rather than further these goals," Phillips wrote in an 86-page ruling.
President Barack Obama campaigned on a promise of full repeal of laws barring openly gay personnel from military service. In March 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates imposed more stringent rules of evidence and generally made it more difficult to discharge openly gay personnel from the military.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has surveyed personnel asking them how comfortable they would be serving with openly gay personnel. Gay activists have accused Obama of stalling on the issue.
(Writing by Joanne Allen; Editing by Christopher Wilson)