Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

US military takes open gay recruits

Lt Daniel Choi, who was discharged from the Army under the Don't Ask-Don't Tell Policy, returns to a recruiting station (AP)
Lt Daniel Choi, who was discharged from the Army under the Don't Ask-Don't Tell Policy, returns to a recruiting station (AP)

The US military is accepting openly gay recruits for the first time in history, even as it tries in the courts to slow the movement to abolish its "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

At least three service members discharged for being gay began the process to re-enlist after the Pentagon's announcement, and several others said they plan to try to rejoin this week.

A US federal judge in California who overturned the 17-year-old policy last week rejected the government's latest effort to halt her order telling the military to stop enforcing the law.

Before her ruling, government lawyers told Ms Phillips they would appeal if she rejected their request.

With the recruiting announcement, the barriers built by an institution long resistant and sometimes hostile to gays had come down.

The movement to overturn the 1993 Clinton-era law gained speed when President Barack Obama campaigned for its repeal. The effort stalled in Congress this autumn, and found new life last month when US District Judge Virginia Phillips declared it unconstitutional.

Under the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the military cannot inquire into service members' sexual orientation and punish them for it as long as they keep it to themselves.

"Gay people have been fighting for equality in the military since the 1960s," said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Centre, a think tank on gays and the military at the University of California Santa Barbara. "It took a lot to get to this day."

The Defence Department said it would comply with Ms Phillips' order and had frozen any discharge cases.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said recruiters had been given top-level guidance to accept applicants who say they are gay.

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