The testimony of UCSB scholar Aaron Belkin was cited in federal judge Virginia Phillips’s 85-page ruling last week that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the armed forces is unconstitutional. Phillips also issued a restraining order barring the military from further enforcing this policy.
Belkin, who runs the Palm Center — a think tank specializing in studying the treatment of sexual minorities in the military — testified at the trial that took place this August in Riverside. In addition, Phillips cited the scholarship of Nathaniel Frank, who, until earlier this year, also worked with the Palm Center. The lawsuit, initiated by the Log Cabin Republicans, is the first constitutional challenge leveled against “don’t ask, don’t tell” to succeed. Belkin and Frank testified as legally recognized experts, in support of the Log Cabin legal claims that “don’t ask, don’t tell” imposes an illegal burden on gay and lesbian servicemen and -women, while failing to deliver the social or mission cohesion claimed by its supporters. The policy was adopted in 1991 on the theory that openly gay service members would prove corrosive to group cohesion and combat readiness.
The judge concluded that the policy alienated otherwise exemplary members of the armed service from their comrades by subjecting them to expulsion if they spoke about their private lives. She also noted that, at a time when their services were urgently needed, the military denied itself the services of qualified specialists — Arab language linguists, in particular — because of the policy. Conversely, she observed that the military often overlooked the fact that certain soldiers were gay until their tour of combat duty was about to expire; only then, she said, would expulsion proceedings be initiated. Since 1991, 13,000 individuals have been expelled from the armed services under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”