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)
Sexual Orientation (military)
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 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.
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.