The Defense Department has halted the discharge of service members under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to comply with a court-issued injunction against enforcing the law, according to the Pentagon.
“The Department of Defense will of course obey the law,” said Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokesperson. “The Department will abide by the terms of the court’s order, effective as of the time and date of the injunction, unless and until the injunction is stayed or vacated.”
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction against the enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” following her court ruling in September striking down the law. The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday asked for a stay in her injunction and appealed the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said his organization would “expect nothing less” than for the Pentagon to comply with the injunction.
“It would undermine our system of government if executive departments started openly defying our courts and their orders,” he said. “The Defense Department is in the business of protecting and defending our system of government, not undermining it, so we are of course pleased that the Pentagon is complying with this injunction.”
The announcement from the Pentagon “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” comes after the Pentagon issued new guidance to the Judge Advocate General’s Corps instructing Pentagon attorneys to pursue no longer discharges under the law.
On Thursday, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued a statement saying it had intercepted an e-mail from a senior Air Force attorney informing lower-level lawyers about the court-issued injunction.
Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, called the guidance an “extraordinary positive development” and said he expects other services would follow suit with the Air Force. Still, he maintained “this interim period is dangerous” and said gay, lesbian and bisexual service members in the U.S. armed forces shouldn’t disclose their sexual orientations.
“We need to put the safety and well being of gay and lesbian service members first,” Sarvis said. “Service members continue to remain vulnerable under [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’]. The president needs to deliver on his promise to end the law this year.”
UPDATE: On Friday, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley issued a memo urging gay service members not to disclose their sexual orientation even with the injunction on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in place.
“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 writes. “We note for service members that altering their personal conduct in this legally uncertain environment may have adverse consequences for themselves or others should the court’s decision be reversed.”