The Clinton administration’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military survived a Supreme Court challenge Monday, but more attacks on the controversial guidelines are headed for the high court in coming months.
The court, without comment, refused to hear Lt. Paul Thomasson’s argument that the policy violates the Constitution.
Thomasson, a former Navy officer, was discharged from the military after he told his commander in a letter, “I am gay.”
A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., upheld Thomasson’s discharge and the policy. His appeal was the first of several by homosexual military personnel to reach the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s decision to let the ruling stand does not mean it necessarily agrees with the lower court, nor does it mean the court will not address the issue later. Often, the court declines to review an issue until there is a conflict among lower courts.
“The main thing for people to realize is this is not a big deal,” said Matt Coles, director of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It is a big deal in that I think Paul Thomasson was unconstitutionally turned out of the military and his career is over. But that the court didn’t take this case is kind of not surprising.”
Thomasson argued that the policy violates his constitutional right to free speech. He was not challenging the entire policy - only the part that allows the military to discharge people for saying they are gay.
“The court might have a different attitude if it were a case that attacked the whole policy,” Coles said. “You look at the policy, and in every respect, there are different rules for gay people. They are uniformly much harsher.”
The policy, implemented in 1993, was designed as a compromise for those who want to ban gays from the military and those who want no restrictions on them.
The policy prevents the military from asking recruits about their sexual orientation, but it allows the military to discharge personnel who declare their sexual preference or who have homosexual sex.