(CN) – A federal judge on Friday ordered the Air Force to reinstate an openly gay flight nurse terminated under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military.
“The reinstatement of Maj. Margaret Witt will not erode the proficiency of the United States military,” U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton wrote. It’s the first time a federal judge has ordered the military to allow gay service members into its ranks since Congress approved the policy in 1993.
“The men and women of the United States military have over the years demonstrated the ability to accept diverse peoples into their ranks and to treat them with the respect necessary to accomplish the mission, whatever that mission might be,” U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton wrote in a 15-page opinion. “That ability has persistently allowed the armed forces of the United States to be the most professional, dedicated and effective military in the world.”
Witt joined the Air Force in 1987, but was suspended in 2004 after higher-ups learned she was a lesbian.
She sued, and in 2008 the 9th Circuit found that the military should have to show its interest in forcing someone from service because of gay conduct.
After a six-day trial, Leighton said on Friday that the U.S. military failed to make such a case.
“The application of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell”‘ to Maj. Margaret Witt does not significantly further the government’s interest in promoting military readiness, unit morale and cohesion,” he wrote. “Her discharge from the Air Force Reserves violated her substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She should be restored to her position as a flight nurse.”
Earlier this week, just hours after the conclusion of Witt’s trial, Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s attempt to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.