The Senate Armed Services Committee will begin holding hearings next Thursday on the Pentagon report examining the effects of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The release date of the review on the 1993 policy that bans gays from serving openly in the military was moved up a day to Nov. 30, according to The Washington Post. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will be among those testifying on Dec. 2.
The announcement for the scheduled hearings comes just after the Department of Justice appealed a U.S. District Court’s decision to reinstate a lesbian Air Force nurse.
Maj. Margaret Witt had been discharged, after being outed, for violating “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Two months ago, however, Judge Ronald Leighton of the Western District of Washington ordered her reinstated, concluding that her rights were violated and that her sexual orientation does not negatively impact unit morale or cohesion.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department appealed that ruling but did not seek a stay of the judge’s order.
Witt is currently applying to be re-assigned to her previous unit.
Doug Honig, communications director at the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Witt, noted that while DADT law resulted in Witt’s termination, her lawsuit was meant to challenge Witt’s individual firing, and not that of all openly homosexual servicemen and women.
“It does not overturn don’t ask, don’t tell,” Honig told The Christian Post.
Before being administratively discharged in 2004 after a six-year relationship with a woman, Witt was a decorated member of her unit. She had received many medals and commendations, including being selected as the poster child for Air Force Nurse Corps recruitment flier in 1993 and a 2003 medal awarded for saving the life a Department of Defense employee who had collapsed aboard a chartered flight.
While Honig said Witt’s case is non-binding in other cases against DADT, it has set a legal precedent. Her case is commonly referred to as the “Witt Standard,” and is considered as a landmark case.
Honig also pointed out that Judge Virginia Phillips, who issued the October injunction on the 1993 ban on open homosexuality in the military, spoke at length about Witt’s case.
Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court has kept DADT in place, pending the DOJ’s case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Senate Republicans are holding off against President Barack Obama’s urgings for a legislative repeal until the Department of Defense reveals its research findings on Nov. 30.
In the weeks leading up to the report’s release, leaks of the review to the media have concerned conservatives. A Washington Post story cited anonymous Pentagon sources who claimed the upcoming report "concluded that the military can lift the ban on gays serving openly in uniform with only minimal and isolated incidents of risk to the current war efforts." The Family Research Council called for the Department of Defense to publicly disavow and formally investigate the leaks, arguing that they gravely undermine the work of the Comprehensive Review Working Group.
Conservative groups and retired chaplains have maintained that repealing DADT would disrupt cohesion, affect morale, and threaten religious liberty. The message of Bible-believing chaplains could be muzzled and they may also be forced to counsel same-sex couples, some have argued.