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Supreme Court Will Not Review Watkins Decision;
Victory Against Military's Anti-Gay Discrimination
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 5, 1990
Ending a decade-long legal battle, the United States Supreme
Court has refused to review a lower court decision which, for the
first time, forced the military to enlist an openly gay soldier.
The soldier, Perry Watkins, had been represented in his lengthy
struggle by the ACLU of Washington, with assistance from the
ACLU's national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.
William B. Rubenstein, the Director of the Lesbian and Gay
Rights Project, called the Court's decision not to hear the
government's appeal of United States v. Watkins, a "significant
victory aginst the military."
"This decision is a huge step toward a day when the military's
unfair discrimination against gay men and lesbians will no longer
be tolerated," Rubenstein said. "The courts rejected the
military's arguments that the presence of this openly gay soldier
would undermine morale and discipline. Perry's career is a
testament to the fact that openly gay soldiers can and will serve
successfully in the armed forces."
When he first enlisted in 1967, Watkins accurately completed
his pre-induction medical form, answering "yes" on a question
that asked whether he had homosexual tendencies. The Army
enlisted him anyway and let him rejoin several times despite
three Army investigations. In 1981, when it adopted new
regulations requiring the discharge of all homosexuals, the Army
began proceedings to remove Watkins.
"Perry Watkins had an examplary record in his 14 years as a
soldier," said Julya Hampton, the Legal Program Director for the
ACLU of Washington. "The Court's decision recognizes that the
Army's treatment of Watkins was unfair and should put an end to
the Army's efforts to discriminate against him."
Watkins, represented by James Lobsenz, a cooperating attorney
with the ACLU of Washington, filed his first legal complaint with
the federal District Court in Seattle in August 1981 seeking to
obtain reinstatement of his security clearance and to force the
Army to stop its attempts to discharge him because he is a
homosexual. In May 1989, after numerous rounds in court, the
federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that, as a
matter of fairness, the Army could not discharge Watkins for
being gay because it had allowed him to re-enlist three times
while knowing of his sexual orientation.
The Bush Administration asked the Supreme Court to review that
decision. On November 5, the Court--without comment--refused that
"This victory demonstrates that there are limits to the
military's discrimination against lesbians and gay men,"
Rubenstein said. "The Court, in effect, has told the Army that it
can accomplish its mission with gay soldiers in the ranks."