WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Friday denied a request to lift the Pentagon’s ban that prevents openly gay men and women from serving in the U.S. military, a decision that turns the focus on the issue to Congress when lawmakers return to work next week.
President Barack Obama has pledged to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which requires homosexual soldiers to keep their orientation secret, but has run into hurdles getting lawmakers to pass the legislation to end it.
At the same time, he has been battling a court fight in which the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay and lesbian advocacy group, won a lower court ruling last month that barred the Pentagon from enforcing the policy.
Obama’s Justice Department appealed to give the military more time to prepare for admitting gay soldiers.
While the district court judge found that “don’t ask, don’t tell”, adopted in 1993, violated the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit put that decision on hold pending its review.
The Log Cabin Republicans then asked the Supreme Court to intervene and lift the appeals court stay, but the high court rejected the request without comment. Justice Elena Kagan, a former Obama administration lawyer, did not participate in the decision.
The Pentagon said it “believes the decision upholding the stay was appropriate.”
That means attention will turn to Congress, where legislation to end the ban has cleared the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate. Gay rights groups are pressuring Obama to lobby undecided senators when they come back to Washington next week.
“Log Cabin will continue working to secure the votes needed for legislative repeal, and if necessary, we look forward to seeing President Obama’s attorneys in court next year to prove, once again, that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ doesn’t work,” said the organization’s executive director Clarke Cooper.
Without action by Congress before the end of the year, it could become difficult for Obama to get lawmakers to repeal the policy in 2011 because Republicans, most of whom oppose lifting the ban, will control the House.
The Pentagon has already begun developing transition plans for accepting openly gay soldiers. Officials have advised gay service members to keep their sexual orientation secret while the court fight continues.
Military officials have warned that an abrupt change in policy could disrupt operations, troop morale and recruiting. However, a Pentagon study group reportedly has concluded that ending the policy would create only minimal risk to the current war effort.
The legal case will now proceed through the appeals court, based in San Francisco.
Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Xavier Briand