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Appeals court ends U.S. military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy

Eric Christopher Adams

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ended the military's controversial don't ask, don’t tell policy that kept gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.

Don't ask, don't tell was ruled unconstitutional last year by a lower federal judge, after a conservative gay rights group, -- the Log Cabin Republicans -- sued to overturn the 18-year-old Defense Department policy, which was enacted during the Clinton presidency.

The Obama administration was placed in the uncomfortable position of defending DADT in court -- in order to keep the federal judiciary from overturning the law. The federal, worldwide injunction against enforcement of DADT was stayed on appeal, which essentially bought time for Congress to repeal it and gave military brass the chance to craft and implement a new policy for gays.

Alaska's two senators, Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich -- supported its repeal. Rep. Don Young, Alaska's lone vote in the U.S. House, voted against repeal.

Now, the 9th Circuit has found that the "circumstances and balance of hardships," which Justice Department lawyers successfully argued on behalf of the military to keep DADT in place, "has changed" with the administration's recent decision to stop defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Since Congress voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," the military has still legally been able to dismiss gay members of the military who may have come out of the closet over the last six months. A spokesperson for the Log Cabin Republicans told the Associated Press that with the 9th Circuit's ruling on Wednesday the threat of dismissal over sexuality had been nullified.

It wasn't yet clear whether new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or the Obama administration would petition to uphold the stay.

Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com