Saturday, February 27, 1999 Published at 01:15 GMT
Army gay ban 'could be lifted'
Stonewall says armed forces ruling faces court challenge
The ban on homosexuals serving in Britain's armed forces is one step nearer being lifted, according to gay rights activists.
The Stonewall organisation - which campaigns for social justice for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals - said the European Court of Human Rights has decided it could hear a controversial test case on the issue.
A case involving four British armed forces personnel dismissed from because of their sexuality has been declared admissible, according to Stonewall.
The group now hopes the case could be heard by the summer, putting further pressure on the Government to rescind the ruling.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said the MoD had not been informed about any European Court decision.
But in such cases, the parties are contacted by the court before decisions are announced publicly.
"Inhumane, unnecessary and wrong"
Stonewall said the court decided to allow the case on four counts, including those covering "inhuman or degrading treatment" and "freedom from discrimination".
"We are delighted that the European Court agrees and is prepared to uphold the rights of lesbians and gay men," said Angela Mason of Stonewall.
"The ban on lesbians and gays serving in the British armed forces is inhumane, unnecessary and wrong," she added.
Stonewall has consistently maintained that the days of the ban are numbered, and predicts that the Ministry of Defence could be forced to pay out millions of pounds in compensation if it is lifted.
MoD sticks to its guns
If the case does go before the European Court the MoD says it would stick to its position.
"The armed forces policy has been ruled lawful in every UK and European ruling to date," a spokesperson for the MoD countered.
"The MoD would refuse to comment until the full hearing but we will continue to defend our policy, which is made on justifiable operational, not moral grounds," the spokesperson said.