October 21, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Choi, others begin to re-enlist

The struggle to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” received renewed national attention this week as the Pentagon announced it would halt enforcement of the policy and a California federal court rejected the Obama administration’s request for a stay of the injunction against the law.

The Pentagon announced that it would discontinue enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips last week issued an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the law that confirmed her September ruling striking down the statute.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department sought an emergency stay with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A decision from the court wasn’t handed down by Blade deadline. Check the Blade’s website for updates on the injunction.

Cynthia Smith, a Defense Department spokesperson, said the Pentagon would adhere to the court injunction and stop discharges of gay, lesbian and bisexual service members.

“The Department of Defense will of course obey the law,” she said. “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.”

Smith said on Oct. 15, the Pentagon issued guidance to military recruiters saying they could no longer dismiss openly gay people who are interested in joining the U.S. armed forces.

“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,” she said.

News that the Pentagon is no longer enforcing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prompted Dan Choi, a discharged former Army officer who gained notoriety by chaining himself to the White House gates in protest over the policy, to seek re-enlistment in the U.S. armed forces.

On Tuesday, Choi reportedly re-enlisted in the Army at a recruiting station in Times Square in New York City. He reportedly said Tuesday recruiters were processing his request and that he initially sought to re-enlist as a Marine, but was told he was too old to enter the service.

Other out gays had sought to re-enlist this week in other places throughout the country. Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of the San Diego chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, reportedly tried to re-enlist with the Marines, but was told that prior-service quotas were full right now.

Even with the injunction in place, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is warning gay, lesbian and bisexual troops to maintain keeping their sexual orientation a secret if they serve in the U.S. armed forces.

In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, urged caution among service members because he said the injunction could be reversed “very soon.”

“During this interim period of uncertainty, service members must not come out and recruits should use caution if choosing to sign up,” Sarvis said. “A higher court is likely to issue a hold on the injunction by Judge Phillips very soon. The bottom line: if you come out now, it can be used against you in the future by the Pentagon.”

As the Pentagon has discontinued enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the Obama administration has sought to reverse the injunction. The Justice Department last week sought a stay in Phillips’ decision to bar enforcement of the law while appealing her ruling to the Ninth Circuit.

But Phillips denied the request in a notice issued Tuesday. The judge explains that she denied a stay of the injunction because the U.S. government has provided inadequate reasons for her to take such action.

“Having considered the papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, the Application, as well as the arguments advanced by counsel at the hearing, the Court DENIES the Application for the following reasons as well as those set forth on the record at the hearing,” she writes.

Many legal experts had expected that Phillips would deny the stay. On Monday, she tentatively denied the stay as she heard arguments from attorneys.

In the Tuesday notice, Phillips said she denied the stay because, among other reasons, the injunction wouldn’t impede the U.S. military’s stated goals of having to amend policies and develop education and training programs to adjust to an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley issued a memo last week outlining this concern.

“Though the Stanley Declaration identifies some general categories of regulations – housing, benefits, re-accession, military equal opportunity, anti-harassment, standards of conduct, and rights and obligations of the chaplain corps – it fails to identify the specific policies and regulations or why they must be changed in light of the Court’s injunction,” Phillips writes.

Phillips also denies that a stay on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” injunction would serve the public interest because she says evidence at trial demonstrated the law “harms military readiness and unit cohesion, and irreparably injures service members by violating their fundamental rights.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, which filed the lawsuit in 2004, said Phillips is “right to stand with service members by rejecting President Obama’s request to continue this discriminatory policy.”

“It is vital that as a nation we uphold the fundamental constitutional rights of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen,” Cooper said. ”With recruiters accepting gay and lesbian applicants and a week having passed without incident, it is clear that our military is well-equipped to adapt to open service, and eager to get on with the work of defending our freedom.”

Cooper criticized Obama for previously saying at a town hall that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would end on his watch while defending the statute in court.

“As commander in chief, the president should drop his defense of a policy which he knows undermines military readiness and threatens national security,” Cooper said.

During a news conference on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs emphasized the president’s commitment to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through legislative means while saying the Justice Department is monitoring what’s happening in the courts.

“The president believes that the policy will end under his watch precisely because in the defense authorization bill pending in the Senate is a provision that would repeal what the president believes is unjust, what the president believes is discriminatory,” Gibbs said. ”It’s passed the House. The president will push for defense authorization to be passed containing that provision when the Senate comes back for the lame duck.”

But whether the Senate would be able to push through “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after Election Day is questionable at best — especially considering Democrats are poised take huge losses and will likely lose control of the U.S. House.

Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said in a statement that Republican support would be needed to move forward with major defense budget legislation to which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language is attached.

“In light of the recent court decision, Republicans will hopefully drop their opposition to ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell] and allow us to pass the [defense] authorization in the lame duck,” Manley said.

The Republican who successfully led a filibuster that derailed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation in the Senate last month pledged on Sunday to continue his opposition after Election Day.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said during a TV interview with the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, Ariz., that he would attempt to block the legislation if a motion to bring the measure to the Senate floor came up during the lame duck.

“I will filibuster or stop it from being brought up until we have a thorough and complete study on the effect of morale and battle effectiveness,” he said.

A Pentagon working group is set to deliver a report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the way forward with implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal by Dec. 1, although McCain has previously suggested the scope of the study is too limited.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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