The Obama administration today asked a federal judge to suspend her order for an immediate, worldwide end to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which prohibits gay and lesbian service members from openly serving.
As of now, the Department of Defense is barred from implementing the policy, and on Thursday Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said, "the Department will abide by the terms in the court's ruling, effective as of the time and date of the ruling."
Judge Virginia Phillips issued the order after ruling on Sept. 10 that the policy violated the free speech and due process rights of service members.
In court papers filed Thursday, lawyers for the administration argued that while President Obama supported the eventual repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," he wanted the change to come from the legislature, not the courts.
For months, the Pentagon has been conducting a comprehensive review of the statute and how best to change the policy. Today it warned that Phillips' order of an immediate halt would be dangerous.
"The precipitous changes to military policy required by the court's injunction would result in a host of significant and immediate harms to the recognized public interest in ensuring that the nation has strong and effective military operations," government lawyers wrote.
In a separate declaration filed with the request, Clifford Stanley, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, warned Phillips that her injunction forces the military to "suddenly and immediately restructure a major personnel policy" during wartime with potentially serious consequences. "The stakes here are so high, and the potential harm so great, that caution is in order," he said.
Gay rights groups, which have anticipated that the administration might appeal the ruling and seek a stay of the injunction, expressed disappointment.
"If this stay is granted, justice will be delayed, but it will not be denied," said Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian advocacy group.
Dan Woods, the plaintiffs' attorney, vowed to fight any appeal. "We will fight vigorously to defend Judge Phillips' lengthy, well-reasoned decision," he said.
The groups have advised caution to gay and lesbian service members currently serving warning them not to openly reveal their sexual orientation just yet.
"We're basically recommending that service members not change anything and operate as if DADT were still in effect," said John Alexander Nicholson, who is a plaintiff in the case and runs Service Members United, one of the largest advocacy groups in the country for gay and lesbian troops.
If the policy is reinstated, some pending investigations could also be allowed to continue.
"Right now, there's still a lot that could happen," said Drew Woodmansee, an attorney representing one of the highest-ranking military officers facing discharge under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach. "My hope is that the government will see the writing on the wall and do the right thing and decide to let Col. Fehrenbach stay in, but until they do that I feel we can't let down our guard."