The Supreme Court carved out a one-man exception to the military services' ban on homosexuals Monday, letting stand a ruling that forces the Army to re-enlist a gay soldier.

The justices, without comment, rejected the Bush administration's challenge to the ordered reinstatement of Perry Watkins of Tacoma, Wash., a 16-year veteran with an excellent service record.Monday's action is not expected to affect in any sweeping way the military's ban on homosexuals. The appeals court ruling in Watkins' case did not address the validity of that ban, but instead noted the Army repeatedly had re-enlisted Watkins while knowing he is gay.

The case nevertheless had been closely watched by gay rights advocates.

``These days, we'll take a victory any way we can get one,' said Paul DiDonato of the National Gay Rights Advocates in San Francisco after acknowledging that Watkins' victory was a narrow one.

But DiDonato said Watkins' case ``sends a broader signal out to the military and the country at large that gays and lesbians cannot be treated unfairly forever by the military or any other employer.'

Watkins said, ``My next step is obviously to get reinstated.' He said he wants to serve until he can retire with an Army pension in about five years.

There was no immediate reaction from the Army or the Department of Defense.

In other matters, the court:

Refused to let some Puerto Rico cable TV systems be prosecuted for carrying The Playboy Channel, rebuffing arguments that states' anti-obscenity efforts may be hampered unduly.

Left intact a ruling from Illinois that lets prosecutors punish businesses convicted of dealing in obscenity by seizing their property.

Let stand an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the public has no constitutional right to attend juvenile court proceedings.

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