SAN FRANCISCO - When U.S. Army Captain Anthony Woods came out to his commanders in 2008, he did so in part because candidate Sen. Barack Obama had promised that, if elected, he would scrap the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which forbids gays and lesbians serving openly.
"I felt that people needed to come out and challenge the law," Woods said.
Two years later, the Fairfield native says he's happy that a federal judge yesterday ruled the policy unconstitutional, but he's disappointed that Obama has not already dismantled it himself.
"I would have expected a lot more from a Democratic administration," he said.
"Think about the irony of the situation," he said. "We have a Republican group, the Log Cabin Republicans, bringing a lawsuit against the policy and a Democratic administration spending taxpayer dollars to defend it."
In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips wrote that "don't ask, don't tell" is unconstitutional because it violates the First and Fifth amendment rights of gays and lesbians.
It was not immediately clear whether the justice department would appeal the ruling. Groups that counsel gay and lesbian service members caution that Phillips' decision did not immediately void the policy, which remains on the books.
For months, efforts to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" have been stalled in the Senate.
"It's very disappointing," said Woods, who deployed twice as a platoon leader in Iraq before being thrown out of the Army.
"If President Obama would make just a few calls to a couple of senators, I think this policy would be history," he said.
Woods said he gets a call or Facebook message nearly every week from the soldiers he served with in Iraq, expressing disappointment that he was discharged. Among the young soldiers that serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, sexual orientation is rarely an issue.
It's mostly the older officers and retired military leaders who make it an issue, he said.
"It's not really a hot topic here," said Jeff Thompson, a Navy veteran of the Iraq war who serves as president of the Veteran-Student Alliance at San Francisco City College.
"We have openly gay veterans in our club, and it's not controversial," he said.
Thompson said he doesn't see "any uprising in the military" if "don't ask, don't tell" is thrown out.
"I served with people who were openly gay," he said. "As long they didn't try to do anything funny we were able to cohabitate very peacefully."
Mario Benfield, the commander of San Francisco's American Legion's Alexander Hamilton Post 448, the only post in the country made up entirely of gay and lesbian military veterans, said part of this change comes from the fact that the United States is one of the last countries in NATO to forbid gays and lesbians from serving openly.
"Our troops who have been deployed overseas have worked with NATO counterparts and have integrated with the soldiers of those countries, which have already resolved issues around gays and lesbians in the armed forces."
"Once it's shown that they can work with gays and lesbians in uniform, it can clear up any kind of weird feelings," he said.
Benfield, 49, called Phillips' ruling historic.
When he first joined the Alexander Hamilton Post 20 years ago, he said, its members included a World War I veteran who had been barred from serving.
"Looking back over the years at all the members who were just distraught and who have since passed away," he said, "I am ecstatic to see that finally the injustices are being resolved, that their work has not been in vain."