A homosexual soldier Monday won a battle to re-enlist in the Army despite the military's ban on homosexuals.
The Supreme Court justices, without comment, let stand a federal appeals court decision requiring the Army to allow Perry Watkins of Seattle to re-enlist. Watkins is a 16-year veteran with an excellent service record.Monday's action does not affect in any sweeping way the military's ban on homosexuals. The case nevertheless has been watched closely by gay rights advocates.
The appeals court ruling in Watkins' case did not address the validity of the ban but noted that the Army repeatedly had re-enlisted Watkins while knowing he is gay.
"Sgt. Watkins has greatly benefited the Army, and therefore the country, by his military service," an 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said last year. "In addition, Watkins' homosexuality clearly has not hurt the Army in any way . . . Equity cries out and demands that the Army be estopped (prohibited) from refusing to re-enlist Watkins on the basis of his homosexuality."
In other action, the court:
- Agreed to use a California murder case to set new guidelines for federal court appeals by convicted defendants who say their rights were violated.
- Let stand a ruling that lets prosecutors punish businesses convicted of dealing in obscenity by seizing their property.
- Refused to let some Puerto Rico cable TV systems be prosecuted for carrying The Playboy Channel, rebuffing arguments that states' anti-obscenity efforts may be hampered unduly.
- Left intact a ruling by Ohio's highest court in a nationally publicized child-custody case that said the public has no right to attend juvenile court proceedings.
- Let stand a ruling that barred employee benefit plans from discriminating against workers who are disabled later in their careers.
The appeals court vote in the homosexual soldier case was 7-4.
Bush administration lawyers had argued that the federal government never should be barred from applying a valid regulation such as the Army's ban on homosexuals.
From 1967 through 1980, Watkins was the subject of three Army investigations. Each one was sparked by Watkins' telling some superior about his homosexuality, but after each investigation he was allowed to re-enlist.
In 1981, the Army adopted a new regulation requiring the discharge of all homosexuals.
A review board in 1982 voted to discharge Watkins, but before those orders were issued a federal judge barred the Army from taking such action.