US military ends gay ban

2010-10-20 08:46

Washington - The US military is ready to accept openly gay recruits for the first time in the country's history, officials said on Tuesday, as a judge upheld an order ending a controversial ban on homosexuals serving in the armed forces.

But the military will tell potential recruits that the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" rule could still be reinstated depending on the outcome of pending court decisions, the Pentagon said.

"Recruiters have been given guidance, and they will process applications for applicants who admit they are openly gay or lesbian," spokesperson Cynthia Smith told AFP.

But she added: "Recruiters are reminded to set the applicants' expectations by informing them that a reversal in the court's decision of the "don't ask, don't tell" law/policy may occur."

Last week a federal judge in California, Virginia Phillips, ordered the government to immediately suspend the rule, which requires gay troops to keep quiet about their sexuality or face expulsion.

And late on Tuesday the same judge rejected a request by the Justice Department for a stay that would suspend the legal order until an expected appeal can be heard.

Judge: Evidence ineffective

In a six-page decision, she rejected the argument that suspending the ban could harm military readiness.

"They had the chance to introduce evidence to that effect at trial," Phillips said. "Defendants did not do so. The evidence they belatedly present now does not meet their burden to obtain a stay."

Gay rights' groups hailed the new ruling - and urged Washington not to appeal it further.

"Judge Phillips once again did the right thing for our national security. We call on the administration not to appeal her decision," said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.

The "don't ask, don't tell" rule "is an unconscionable law that forces brave lesbian and gay Americans to serve in silence ... The law is detrimental, not only to our national security, but also to the core American value of fairness," he added.

Effect for Obama govt

Although President Barack Obama has called for scrapping the 1993 law and tried to persuade Congress to end the ban, the court order has put his administration in a bind as it tries to carry out a review of the issue.

Obama had ordered a year-long assessment of how ending the ban would affect military readiness, effectiveness and unit cohesion, which is due to be completed on December 1.

In a memo sent out last week to secretaries of the US Army, Navy and Air Force, Under Secretary of Defence for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley said the Defence Department "will abide by the terms of the injunction" from the federal judge.

He ordered the military's department secretaries to "ensure immediate compliance" with his memo.

"It remains the policy of the Department of Defence not to ask service members or applicants about their sexual orientation, to treat all members with dignity and respect, and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline," he added.

Opponents: Harms national security

Opponents of the ban argue it violates the rights of gay service members and has harmed national security by forcing out some 14 000 qualified troops.

Advocates of the "don't ask, don't tell" rule, including the outgoing head of the US Marine Corps, say it ensures "unit cohesion", and that changing the law during wartime could prove disruptive.

If the ban is lifted for good, the American military would be following the example of other US allies, including Britain and Israel, which have reported no serious problems since allowing gays to serve openly in uniform.

Polls have shown a majority of Americans support ending the ban, but Republican lawmakers, including former presidential candidate John McCain, opposed the most recent attempt to change the rule.