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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 23, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 38
ACLU goes to court for equal military separation pay
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ACLU goes to court for equal military separation pay

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The ACLU appeared in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on September 22 challenging a Defense Department policy that pays service members who have been honorably discharged for being Gay only half of what they would otherwise get.

The separation pay policy is not part of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' statute, and can be changed without congressional approval, the ACLU says.

The lead plaintiff in Collins v. United States is Richard Collins, a decorated former staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, but the case is a class action in which the ACLU seeks redress for all discharged service members in a similar situation.

Collins served in the Air Force for nine years until he was discharged from service under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.

Collins' superiors learned that he is Gay when two civilian co-workers observed him exchange a kiss with his civilian boyfriend and then reported him.

As a result, Collins received an honorable discharge from the Air Force but then discovered after the discharge had been completed that his separation pay had been cut in half on the grounds of 'homosexuality.'

Congress has legislated that individuals who serve in the armed forces for at least six years and are discharged honorably should get separation pay.

An internal Defense Department decision cuts that separation pay in half for any service member who is discharged for 'homosexuality' even if that person has been discharged honorably.

Collins and the ACLU contend that policy is discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.

The government filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but it did not defend the separation pay policy as constitutional.

Instead, the government argued that even if the policy is unconstitutional, the court cannot award Gay and Lesbian service members any judicial relief.

'The government is too embarrassed to defend the constitutionality of its policy in open court, so it is inventing new reasons to deny these service members justice,' said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU LGBT Project, who argued the case.

'These veterans served their country honorably and deserve the full recognition and benefits that are afforded to other service members. The sums they seek are small to the military, but make a huge difference when readjusting to civilian life.'

'After nine years of honorable service, it's not fair that I should be deprived of the same benefits given to other dedicated service members who are adjusting to civilian life,' said Collins prior to the hearing.

'I hope that the Defense Department will adjust its policy and show some justice to anyone who has been discharged from the military under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'

'Mr. Collins' case is a perfect example of how discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unfair and unconstitutional,' said Laura Ives, a staff attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico.

'Mr. Collins' sexual orientation did not prevent him from serving his country ably and honorably. The least the government can do is provide him with the same separation pay it provides other honorably discharged service members.'

The ACLU and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network first contacted the Defense Department in November 2009 to request that the separation-pay policy be revised to eliminate discrimination against Gay and Lesbian servicemembers.

The department refused to do so, however. Because of this refusal, the national ACLU and the ACLU of New Mexico filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims is a federal court assigned to hear monetary claims against the U.S. government.

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