Confusion as gays attempt to join military
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dan Choi, a former Iraq war veteran discharged in July for being openly gay, returned to a New York City recruiting station on Wednesday to complete his application to re-enlist in the Army.
But at the Pentagon, U.S. officials are warning that Choi and other gay veterans now applying for the armed forces may never be called to duty.
Confusion has reigned since a federal judge struck down the military's 17-year-old ban on openly serving homosexuals a week ago, forcing the Pentagon to order recruiting stations to treat gay and lesbian applicants like anyone else.
But while U.S. officials say they must accept such applications, they also warn that the entire process could unravel if the Obama administration successfully overturns the judge's decision in court.
The path for applicants like Choi is also bedeviled by bureaucratic confusion.
"Things that recruiters have been doing for years has now been turned on its head because there's this uncertainty," said Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.
The Obama administration wants to lift "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But it says Congress, not the courts, should repeal the 1993 policy, which allows homosexuals to serve in secret but discharges them if their sexual orientation is revealed.
It asked a federal appeals court on Wednesday to let the Pentagon reinstate its ban while it appeals a lower-court ruling declaring the policy unconstitutional. Observers say the case might go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has warned it normally takes weeks or months to process an application to enlist -- enough time for a legal reversal that would void chances for Choi and others appearing at U.S. recruiting stations.
Attempts by openly gay veterans to re-enlist are complicated by unanswered questions about whether special waivers might be needed. More than 13,000 service members have been discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
It is unclear if all recruiting stations understand Pentagon guidance on gay applicants, which started trickling down through the system last week but was only publicly acknowledged on Tuesday.
For his part, Choi appeared triumphant. He said on his Twitter feed on Wednesday that he passed the skills test, although he missed three verbal and five math questions.
He also made a bold declaration on his written application, saying he would not lie again about his identity or that of his partner in order to serve in the United States military.
"I told the truth about my sexual orientation and refused to lie about my cherished lover and partner," he wrote.
"I do not intend to lie about my identity or family in any portion of my service." (Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Deborah Charles and Doina Chiacu)
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