June 8th, 2009
11:46 AM ET
11 years ago

Justices throw out lawsuit over gays in the military law

There is no pending legislation in Congress to change or repeal the 'don't ask/ don't tell' law.

There is no pending legislation in Congress to change or repeal the 'don't ask/ don't tell' law.

WASHINGTON - A former Army captain who was dismissed under a federal law dealing with gays and lesbians in the military, lost his appeal at the Supreme Court Monday.

James Pietrangelo and 11 other veterans had sued the government over the "don't ask/ don't tell" law passed in 1993.

He was the only one who appealed to the high court, but the justices without comment refused to intervene.

The provision forbids those in the military from openly acknowledging or revealing their homosexuality, and prevents the government from asking individual soldiers and sailors about their sexual orientation.

The Obama administration had asked the high court not to take the case, and White House officials had said they would not object to homosexuals being kicked out of the armed services.

During the presidential campaign last year, Obama said he supported throwing out the federal law, but has taken no specific action on the controversy.

The Justice Department said in a high court filing the law was "rationally related to the government's legitimate interest in military discipline and cohesion."

A federal appeals court in Boston had ruled against Pietrangelo, essentially ending his legal efforts. But a San Francisco-based federal appeals court ruled partially in favor of Maj. Margaret Witt, allowing her lawsuit against the Pentagon to move ahead. Those judges said the Air Force must prove the dismissal of the flight nurse would ensure troop readiness and cohesion.

There is no pending legislation in Congress to change or repeal the "don't ask/ don't tell" law.

The current case is Pietrangelo v. Gates (08-824).

Filed under: Obama administration • Supreme Court
soundoff (159 Responses)
  1. history repeats

    @ Nestor, Austin, TX

    yes its dont ask dont tell, but what about the fact that these people are in danger every day. they trust their brothers and sisters in the military. they talk about the partner they miss at home or have a picture of them. and someone overhears or sees a picture and because of their own insecurity and feeblemindeness they TELL, then who is REALLY patriotic? in the military its not about freedom and all that its about protecting the man or woman that is next to you. so what do we do with that rats that will sellout their fellow soldiers because they were raised by ignorant fools back in the states that TALK about patriotism yet dont understand the word at all!!!

    June 8, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  2. amy in md

    Black Spider:

    I don't understand how carrying a wounded gay soldier soldier can ever be considered demoralizing. Would it be that way if a straight male carried a straight female? Just because a male soldier is interested in other males doesn't mean they are interested in EVERY male.

    I didn't serve in the military and honestly I never will. But I don't see how this does not qualify as discrimination that is based on religious bias. There is no other good reason for keeping this group of people out. It's definitely not based on merit. This law perpetuates the view that we cant all live and work together while being truthful about ourselves, and that to me is more of a concern than anything else.

    June 8, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  3. Nestor, Austin, TX


    No it wasn't a disaster because the US Military did 95% (with 40-50% of the troops in theatre) of the work while the other nations partied.

    June 8, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  4. al rocci

    It is illegal to be gay?.....if not, why are these Americans not afforded the exact civil rights and due process as their compatriots? If it is...........

    June 8, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  5. history repeats


    i agree we need to keep obama accoutnable for his actions. i dont lilke his stance on gays. i like that hes trying to end our reliance on oil. however if the only other choice in 4 yrs is a republican way of doing things obama will have another landslide.

    June 8, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  6. David

    @ al rocci . . . because in America straight, white, christian men determine what civil right are and who should be allowed to have them.

    June 8, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  7. JT

    How would the Supreme Court, military, or any government agency identify all gays fairly while preserving their human rights? Do they have a 'gaydar' for segregation purposes?

    June 8, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  8. SICK of the idiot-fringe-right-wing-extremists

    Personally, I think every gay and lesbian soldier should immediately come out to their commanding officer. Then they can be kicked out and we can all see how many gay & lesbian soldiers we will be losing by this BIGOTED law.

    June 8, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  9. Mary

    I'm glad the Justices listened to President Obama and decided not to rule on this case.

    June 8, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  10. Just One Gay

    "Carrying a wounded gay on your back?" lol Are we serious? I suppose next you'll be carrying a wounded black.

    My dear gays (since "gay" seems to be a noun now), let "the straights" go to war and blow each other up, if they feel so inclined. After all, I suppose I feel grateful that we aren't lined up in front of a firing squad in this country for being gay. But other than "not being murdered" what has this country ever done for us? Near as I can tell, we're a second-class group of folks living under taxation without representation. We're mocked, persecuted, and denied basic civil rights. America should be happy that any gay person would want to fight for such a raw deal. Half the country is full of angry, hateful imbeciles. I support sending them to war, instead. Preserve the gays!!!!

    June 8, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  11. Robin

    Why are people shocked. President Obama does not support Gay Marriage either.

    June 8, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  12. DeborahKansas City

    President Obama, I am disappointed in you for the first time. You definately have the political support to get this done and end the legalized discrimination. I know you are waiting for those in command to do the right thing, without you forcing them, but they are not doing it. Step up and do the right thing for our countrymen and women.

    June 8, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  13. Scared of my shadow

    Black people make me uncomfortable. Let's kick them out. And so do redheads and left-handed people. You know who else makes me uncomfortable? BIGOTS! I hate showering with bigots.

    June 8, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  14. GJ

    I still support my president, but I have never trusted him on GLBT issues.

    June 8, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  15. annie s

    Two of my few disappointments with our new President – his stance on gay marriage and his lack of support for ending this stupid "don't ask don't tell" policy. Discrimination against ANYONE is unacceptable.

    June 8, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  16. Nestor, Austin, TX

    If you are in the military you give up some of your freedoms. By raising your right hand you are held to a different standard. You no longer have the right to openly protest your government, you give up habeas corpus, you can not refuse orders, and you can not serve as an openly gay servicemember. I layed out why it's detremental to unit morale and cohesion. The military does not have the absolute freedom that they fight for. If they did, the military wouldn't be as effective. If the military wasn't effective, we'd be overrun by Radical Islamists and there would be no openly gay individuals anywhere in America.

    June 8, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  17. John

    Once again the Supreme Court is a joke. They do not follow the Consitution of The United States. What hipocrist we Americans are when Troops are Fighting around the world for freedom of countries when the United States is dening it's own peoples rights. What a Joke this United States Government is......

    June 8, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  18. Observer

    It's not illegal to be gay in the military–there are many homosexuals in all branches of the military–it just isn't a subject that's allowed to be divulged or inquired about, hence the "don't ask/don't tell." What I find perplexing is why someone who is gay would knowly sign a contract with an organization (yes, the military is an organization) stating that they aren't allowed to state their sexual orientation, or face the reprocutions of being discharged; yet they are surprised and offended when they are discharged for stating their sexual orientation. It's in the contract they are signing. If they are opposed to the policy, fight it before you join, not after you join and get discharged because you make your sexual orientation known. I fully support everyone having equal rights, but know when to fight for them. Fight for them BEFORE you join, not after... If it's done after, it just goes to show that you knew what you were getting into when you signed on the dotted line.

    June 8, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  19. panem et circenses

    @ David June 8th, 2009 12:05 pm ET

    It's sad that so many people 'choose' to create an identity based on overt and 'in your face' sexual 'activity'. Maybe if they stopped trying to 'be' or create a lifestyle based on 'sex and sexual activity'….there wouldn't be an issue with the military or anywhere else.

    Thank you for putting this so succinctly.

    My son just attended a leadership forum in Boston (14 year olds) where one of the topics of discussion was "tolerance": of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Wouldn't you know it, a 14 year old girl announces that she is bi-sexual and that several members of her family are gay/bi/transgender/whatever thus turning the meeting into a monolog about herself and her sex life.

    None of the Christians or Jews felt it necessary to declare their personal position on religion. None of the Asians thought they needed the floor to discuss their "Asian-ness".

    It's inappropriate to discuss your sexual history at that age anyway, and in searching for validation for her gender confusion she put her 2 (straigh female) roommates into a very uncomfortable position – which she never thought twice about.

    Only in Massachusetts...

    June 8, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  20. Jerry

    To Ron in California,

    I'm sure there are plenty of racists in the military too. Should we ban soldiers who are openly black?

    Just because there are homophobes in uniform, doesn't mean we should pander to them. We should EDUCATE them. That openly gay, arabic speaking soldier next to you, might save hundreds of lives. What is more important?

    June 8, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  21. S, Miami, FL

    Wow, and I always assumed some of the biggest fears with our men and women of the military were such things as guerilla warfare, hidden weapons such as landmines, etc. I had no idea the biggest paranoia of service members was taking a shower with the unit.

    June 8, 2009 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  22. John

    Once again the Supreme Court is a joke. They do not follow the of Constitution of The United States. What hipocrist we Americans are when Troops are Fighting around the world for freedom of countries when the United States is denying it's own peoples rights. What a Joke this United States Government is......

    June 8, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  23. Paul from Phoenix

    Don't care if they are straight, gay, balck, white. If someone is willing to put their life on the line for America, then God bless them, thank you, and a safe return.

    Stupid PC attempt by Clinton administration, trying to have their cake and eat it too. Clinton, Bush, and now Obama are too big of cowards to take a stand on this issue. All have deferred to the courts instead of taking a stand one way of the other.

    June 8, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  24. history repeats

    i think everybody is a homophobe until they ACTUALLY meet gay people. my ex was a fashion designer and she was always around gay people. at first it was uncomfortable but it was just in my head. after 2 or 3 times hanging out with them you see they are just like everybody else!! lol. they are usually more honest then everybody else! which makes a conversation alot more interesting! the more struggle somebody goes through the more growth they recieve. and gays in this country really have to deal with some of the stupidest people in the world that are scared that they might become gay if they talk to a gay person. i never understood that. i mean i was never attracted to guys so i was never really nervous about being around gay people. just uncomfortable because i never met one. i believe its the same in the military. people are just SCARED but its all in their head. but the worst part is they are making policy BASED on this fear and insecurity!!

    June 8, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  25. Sophia33

    Obama is taking his base for granted. If he continues to do so he will be a one term President. Gays and lesbians are being patient with President Obama because of all the mess that needs to be cleaned up following "W". However, the window is very finite in which Obama will be able to skirt issues of equality for gays, lesbians and women. He got votes because of his promises, despite not having the experience of many of the other Democratic candidates. If he wants to be remembered as an excellent President and not prove everyone right about speaking with a fork tongue and being in experienced, Mr. Obama needs to actualize equality for gays and lesbians. He also needs to sign FOCA, a bill he co-sponsored in the Senate.

    June 8, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
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