Friday, March 13, 2009

SLDN holds "Freedom to Serve" rally on Capitol grounds

Today Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network (SLDN) held it’s rally (as part of Lobby Day) on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington DC at noon, in a sprinkle of wet, non-sticking snow. Several hundred people attended.

There was a lot of typical pep talk pomp, led by SLDN Grassroots Organizer Ben Mishkin. “What do we want? Freedom to serve. What do we need to do:? Lift the ban.”

But there were many important speakers.

The most remarkable may be Major Margaret Witt, who was discharged from the Air Force after 18 years. She lost in court, but in the first win at the appellate level since the formal implementation of “don’t ask don’t tell” the Ninth Circuit ruled that her case could go trial under something more than a rational basis review. As SLDN explained it

“In the majority decision written by Justice Ronald M. Gould, the Ninth Circuit held, “that Lawrence (v. Texas) requires something more than traditional rational basis review…” and also cited a decision by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruling that Lawrence v. Texas applies to the military and requires a “searching constitutional inquiry” when the military attempts to interfere in a service member’s intimate private life.” The full story last May was here. UK writer Phil Chandler made an interesting further analysis here comparing it afar to the Connecticut gay marriage case. It's important to put some points on the board at the appeals level to get the Supreme Court to be willing to take it some day if not first repealed by Congress (or to prod Congress with the possibility that the Supreme Court could strike it down now). So far there have been three "losses" at the appellate level.

The media files for this case are on the Ninth Circuit’s site here.

but I had trouble finding the PDF opinion (site scripting problems).

Darren Manzella, who served a long time openly in Iraq and appeared on “60 Minutes” and was finally discharged, appeared with his mother, who pointed out that her son had been treated as a celebrity on a transoceanic airplane flight by passengers and crew.

Margarethe (Greta) Cammermeyer (“Serving in Silence”) was for all intents and purposes the keynote speaker.

DC Delegate in the House of Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton gave an impassioned address, saying that to expect gay servicemembers to remain silent amounted to cruelty. She said, "we're done asking. And we're telling!"

One young heterosexual male Army NCO (who said he was straight) and Iraq veteran from multiple tours spoke for complete lifting of the ban and elimination of DADT, and said that the presence of open gays did not undermine unit cohesion.

Another gay veteran, now with long hair, talked about the life of an activist.

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