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News - November 1996

Appeals court lets stand federal court ruling in Cammermeyer case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently rejected the government's effort to wipe off the books a lower court decision that stopped the military from discharging Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, the highly decorated Army and National Guard nurse, for acknowledging she is a lesbian.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Cammermeyer's co-counsel, said the ruling preserves an important federal court opinion that ruled the military's anti-gay policy to be unconstitutional. Although the government earlier agreed to not discharge Col. Cammermeyer, Lambda continues to wage legal challenges to the military's on-going anti-gay rules which treat lesbian and gay personnel differently than non-gay personnel.

Col. Cammermeyer is now on inactive duty awaiting resolution of her case. She drew widespread public support and inspired a 1995 made-for-television movie, "Serving in Silence," starring Glenn Close.

"Grethe Cammermeyer's courage and perseverance in this case are vivid examples of how wrong the military's anti-gay policies are," said Jon W. Davidson, Supervising Attorney in Lambda's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles.

The ruling by the Ninth Circuit sends the case, Cammermeyer v. United States, to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly in Seattle. Judge Zilly ruled in 1994, that Col. Cammermeyer's discharge was a violation of her Constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The judge also said it was unconstitutional to discharge Col. Cammermeyer solely on the basis of her sexual orientation. Although the appeals court refused the government's request to vacate the earlier decision, it left the option to Judge Zilly to consider.

From her home in Whilbey Island, Washington, Col. Cammermeyer said, "This is not just a matter of principle or pride. We believe it has important ramifications for today, because of the constitutional issues Judge Zilly has addressed."

A 28-year veteran of the Army and National Guard, and Chief Nurse of the Washington State National Guard, Cammermeyer is the highest-ranking service member to be discharged for being lesbian or gay. Among many other honors, she received a Bronze Star for her service in Vietnam.

Lambda is the oldest and largest gay legal organization, with headquarters in New York and regional offices in Chicago as well as Los Angeles. Former Lambda staff attorney Mary Newcombe, now of Hedges & Caldwell in Los Angeles, continues to represent Col. Cammermeyer as a cooperating attorney for Lambda. Jeffrey Tilden and Michael Himes of the Seattle firm of Perkins Coie are co-counsel on behalf of the Northwest Women's Law Center.

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