By PAULINE JELINEK
WASHINGTON – The Air Force has discharged an airman under the law banning gays from serving openly in the military, the first firing since President Barack Obama signed legislation aimed at ending the ban.
The ban, laid out in the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, is just months from being lifted.
The service member was discharged April 29, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Vician said late Thursday.
“The airman in the case asked to be separated expeditiously,” Vician said, adding that he didn’t know other details of the case, nor the gender of the service member. The Air Force uses the term “airman” for both men and women.
The firing is also the first since Defense Secretary Robert Gates in October made it harder to throw someone out of the military for being openly gay. Gates at the time ordered that all dismissals under don’t ask, don’t tell be decided by the person’s service secretary in consultation with the military’s general counsel and Gates’ personnel chief.
Gates said the purpose of narrowing those in charge of dismissal was to “ensure uniformity and care in the enforcement” at a time of “legal uncertainty.” The law was under assault in the courts at the time and a federal judge in California had ordered the military to stop enforcing it.
The April discharge is the only one approved following the Gates directive, said Eileen Lainez, a Defense Department spokeswoman.
Vician said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley approved it after consulting with general counsel and the head of personnel. “Each of these officials evaluated the case carefully and concluded that separation was appropriate,” he said.
Lainez noted that until repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell occurs, “it remains in effect, and the Department of Defense will continue to apply the law as it is obligated to do.”
Under the legislation Obama signed in December, troops are now being trained on the repeal of the old law. The president and top defense officials must still certify the repeal won’t hurt the military’s ability to fight, and repeal would be official 60 days after that.
Aubrey Sarvis of the advocacy group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said the discharge underscores the need for officials to wrap up the repeal process “and put this ugly chapter in American history behind us.”