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Courts, public opinion chipping away at ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

In two cases, federal judges have ruled against the 'don't ask, don't tell' law banning openly gay men and women from serving in the US military. Most Americans favor repeal of the law, but it's a tough fight in Congress.

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Margaret Witt with Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach at the federal courthouse in Tacoma, Wash., Friday. A federal judge ruled that Witt, a flight nurse discharged from the Air Force for being gay, should be given her job back as soon as possible. Fehrenbach, a decorated combat fighter pilot, is fighting his own discharge from the Air Force under don't ask, don't tell.

Ted S. Warren/AP

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In what's being seen as a legal chipping away at don't ask, don't tell, US District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled Friday that former Air Force Reserve Maj. Margaret Witt, a military nurse, should be "reinstated at the earliest possible moment." Maj. Witt had been forced out of the military because of her sexual orientation.

The Witt ruling in Tacoma, Washington, comes just weeks after a federal judge in California struck down as unconstitutional the 1993 law banning openly gay men and women from serving in the US military.

The essence of the argument for don’t ask, don’t tell is that having homosexuals in the ranks of military units undermines morale and unit cohesiveness. In her ruling earlier this month, Judge Virginia Phillips rejected that argument.

“The 'don’t ask, don’t tell' act infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways,” she wrote. “In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the 'don’t ask, don’t tell' act was necessary to significantly further the government’s important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden.”

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