WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Friday it was abiding by a court injunction not to discharge openly gay men and women in the U.S. military but warned them against changing their behavior while legal challenges continue.
“We note for service members that altering their personal conduct in this legally uncertain environment may have adverse consequences for themselves and others should the court’s decision be reversed,” Undersecretary of Defense Clifford Stanley said in a memo.
California-based U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ordered the military on Tuesday to stop enforcing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces.
She also directed the military to drop any pending investigations and discharges after ruling that the policy violated the Constitution.
The Obama administration on Thursday asked Phillips to stay her ruling while it appealed the decision, which overturned a 17-year-old compromise that allowed gay men and women to serve in the military only if they kept their sexual orientation private.
Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the Defense Department was abiding by the terms of the court’s injunction but noted the Justice Department had appealed the ruling.
“It is possible that a stay of the injunction could be issued very soon, perhaps in a matter of days,” he said. If Phillips denies a stay, the Obama administration said it would seek one from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“In light of the appeal and the application for a stay, a certain amount of uncertainty now exists about the future of the don’t ask, don’t tell law and policy,” Stanley said, cautioning service members against altering their behavior because of the situation.
President Barack Obama has vowed to repeal the policy and the Defense Department has begun reviewing how to allow gay men and women to serve openly in the military.
Stanley said the Defense Department was continuing to study the impact that a change in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law would have on the military and planned to have it completed by December 1.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of Americans support allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Polling over the past 16 years has consistently shown similar results, but some in the military contend that it could have a negative impact military effectiveness.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was introduced in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. It replaced the previous practice of completely excluding gay men and women from the military.
Editing by Eric Walsh