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Congratulations to Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer & Diane Divelbess and Major Margaret Witt & Laurie Johnson
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/20/12
Last updated on: 12/20/12
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Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer (left) and Major Margaret Witt.

Two heroes of the movement to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" recently wed their long-time partners in Washington state. Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer and Diane Divelbess were the first couple to receive a marriage license in Island County on December 6, 2012. Similarly, Major Margaret Witt and Laurie Johnson were the first couple to obtain a marriage license in Spokane County the same day.

The highest-ranking official in the United States military to acknowledge her homosexuality while in the service, Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer successfully challenged the military's policy banning homosexuals prior to the implementation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." She served a number of years in the Washington State National Guard as an open lesbian. She was discharged in 1992, but sued and won reinstatement in 1994. She retired in 1997 with full military honors and benefits.

Cammermeyer's story was told in a 1994 autobiography, Serving in Silence, which was subsequently made into an Emmy Award-winning television film starring Glenn Close. She then became an important voice in the struggle to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Cammermeyer and artist Divelbess, who have been together 25 years, were married in 2004 by a judge in Portland, Oregon. But that marriage was invalidated when the Supreme Court of Oregon ruled that the same-sex weddings conducted in Portland in 2004 were null and void.

They told Justin Burnett of the South Whidbey Record that they were devastated when their marriage was invalidated, but the experience taught them that when you go through a marriage, "it is much more than a piece of paper."

Cammermeyer and Divelbess were wed, along with nine other couples, on December 9, 2012 in a private ceremony officiated by the mayor of Coupeville, Washington.

Major Margaret Witt, a highly decorated Air Force flight nurse, was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2008. She filed a suit, Witt v. Department of the Air Force that proved valuable in dismantling the discriminatory policy.

The suit led to a major ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that required the military to justify its allegations that the presence of an openly gay servicemember negatively affects unit cohesion and that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy" was necessary for purposes of military readiness. It thereby established the "Witt test" by which the policy's constitutionality could be measured.

While the application of the "Witt test" did not declare the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Act unconstitutional, it made discharging soldiers under the policy potentially much more difficult. The military could not rely upon mere assertions of hypothetical risk, but had to demonstrate the dangers posed by openly gay servicemembers.

During the September 2010 retrial of her case using the test, Major Witt's former colleagues testified as to her exceptional skills and as to the fact that knowledge of her sexual orientation had no effect on unit cohesion and morale. Indeed, they testified that her firing adversely affected morale and cohesion.

Winning at the retrial, Major Witt became the first servicemember discharged under DADT to be ordered reinstated. Major Witt reached a settlement with the Air Force that allowed her to retire with full benefits.

Witt and her long-time partner Laurie Johnson wed in a small ceremony in Spokane, Washington on December 15, 2012. Photos of the happy couple may be found at SheWired.

In the video below, Major Witt testifies at a Spokane City Council meeting in favor of a resolution supporting marriage equality.

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