Watkins v. United States Army

875 F.2d 699
Brief Filed: 8/88
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Year of Decision: 1989

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 1.48MB)

Issue

Whether U.S. Army regulations requiring the discharge of lesbians and gay men and barring them from reenlisting were unconstitutional

Index Topic

Sexual Orientation (military)

Facts

In 1982, pursuant to Army Regulations requiring the discharge of lesbians and gay men and barring them from re-enlisting, Sergeant Watkins — who had never attempted to conceal his sexual orientation — was refused reenlistment. This case involved the question whether: (1) homosexuals are a specially protected group under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution; and, as a result, (2) the Army has a constitutionally valid right to terminate soldiers simply because they admit to their homosexual status. On a second appeal to that court, a panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled in the affirmative as to question (1) and in the negative as to question (2). It held that homosexuals were a "suspect class" and that any laws that discriminated against them must be justified by a compelling state interest. The Army's petition for a rehearing en banc was granted.

APA's Position

APA submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Watkins arguing that: (1) the Ninth Circuit Panel's decision that homosexual people constitute a discrete and insular minority requiring the protection of heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause is supported by scientific research and opinion; (2) sexual orientation does not affect a person's ability to contribute to society; (3) discrimination against gay people is substantially based on erroneous stereotypes; (4) sexual orientation is highly resistant to change, and it is therefore abhorrent for government to penalize homosexual status; (5) the Army's regulations stigmatize homosexuals and encourage gay soldiers to conceal their homosexuality, which may be harmful to their mental health; (6) the Army's self-declared rationale for excluding lesbians and gay men is contradicted by scientific research; (7) the government may not penalize a group solely because others are prejudiced against it; (8) prejudice against lesbians and gay men in the Army is likely to be reduced by encouraging contact between homosexuals and heterosexuals; and (9) there was no rational basis for the Army's exclusion of gay people.

Results

The Ninth Circuit, en banc, held that the Army was estopped from barring a soldier's reenlistment solely because of his acknowledged homosexuality. The Ninth Circuit held that it was unnecessary to reach a determination on the constitutional issues raised.