Cultural Revolutions

Britain's Defense Policy

Britain's defense policy prohibiting homosexuals from serving in the armed forces was recently struck down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Formed in 1959 to enforce the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ECHR is a creature of the 41-nation Council of Europe. The court's authority comes from the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty under which the signatory nations have agreed to "undertake to abide by the final judgment of the Court in any case." The enforcement of the court's decisions is delegated to the Council's Committee of Ministers.

The cases dealing with the British military pitted the Ministry of Defence's policy declaring homosexuality to be "incompatible with service in the armed forces" against Article 8 of the Convention, which secures the "right to respect for private and family life." The cases heard by the ECHR were originally reviewed in the British appellate system, and the military's prohibition against homosexuality was upheld under a deferential "rational basis" standard. As one British judge phrased it: "the court may not interfere with the exercise of administrative discretion . . . save where the court is satisfied the decision in unreasonable."

The European Court of Human Rights, however, used a stricter standard in its review. The ECHR asked whether the policy was "necessary...

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