Judge's ruling allows Navy to discharge gay Md. officer No violation is found of his freedom of speech

November 02, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A Maryland sailor who publicly acknowledged he is gay lost a battle to stay in the Navy when a federal judge deferred to previous rulings that found "homosexual acts are disruptive to the military's mission" and may pose a threat to the "morality" of troops.

The opinion by Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Young allows the Navy to discharge the officer, who had argued that the military violated his First Amendment rights by expelling him for acknowledging he is gay.

Judge Young ruled that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy "is designed to prevent homosexual acts and any incidental burden on speech resulting from its application does not violate the First Amendment."

The policy prohibits military superiors from asking about someone's sexual orientation. But it also stipulates that gay service members will be discharged if they declare their homosexuality or engage in homosexual conduct.

"Congress enacted the policy when, after long deliberation, it determined that homosexual acts are disruptive and the military must be allowed to take prompt precautionary measures to prevent such disruption," the judge wrote.

Judge Young's opinion angered the officer, Lt. Richard "Dirk" Selland, a 27-year-old Salisbury native who said yesterday that he will file an appeal and continue fighting to stay in the military.

"Many of my shipmates knew all along that I was gay. They had no problem with going out to sea with me," said Lieutenant Selland, who served as a supply officer aboard the nuclear attack submarine USS Hammerhead.

"We don't shed our constitutional rights when we enter the military. Here, the military is supposed to be defending those rights, and instead it's stomping all over them," he said.

Concerned by the taunts of shipmates who suspected he was a homosexual, Lieutenant Selland told his superiors that he was gay in June 1993, the day after President Clinton took office with a pledge to change the policy on homosexuals.

But the Navy used Lieutenant Selland's statement to begin discharge proceedings.

Judge Young said that at the time of the admission, Lieutenant Selland and the rest of the submarine crew were "preparing for an unsupported top-secret mission" that would have kept them isolated for a considerable time. As such, he said, it was not unreasonable for his superiors to want him off the sub.

"The rationality of separating a member from service would be more dubious if the statement [of homosexuality] occurred on a base on the mainland or in units not facing imminent combat situations, but that is not the factual situation before this court," the judge wrote.

Dixon Osburn, the co-executive director of the Service Members Legal Defense Network, a military legal aid organization for those affected by the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, said the ruling "turned a blind eye on justice."

He said he has received 600 calls from members of the military about the policy, and the consensus "is that harassment [against gays in the military] has skyrocketed due to 'don't ask, don't tell.' "

Lieutenant Selland, who has served in the Navy more than five years, is a procurement officer at the naval Fleet and Industrial Supply Center in Norfolk. He and his attorney said they will ask the judge for a stay of dismissal while his appeal is considered by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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