, WASHINGTON, Oct 20 – The US military says it is ready to accept openly gay recruits for the first time in the country\’s history, after a judge upheld an order ending a controversial ban on homosexual troops.
But the military will warn 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," spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told AFP, urging recruiters to remind applicants that the court\’s decision could be reversed.
Gay rights groups gave a cautious welcome to the military\’s move and the judge\’s decision.
"During this interim period of uncertainty, service members must not come out and recruits should use caution if choosing to sign up," said Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis, a US Army veteran.
Sarvis warned that a higher court could overturn the judge\’s ruling.
"The bottom line: if you come out now, it can be used against you in the future by the Pentagon," Sarvis added in a statement.
Last week, US District Judge Virginia Phillips of California ordered the government to immediately suspend the rule, which requires gay troops to keep quiet about their sexuality or face expulsion.
Late Tuesday, the federal judge rejected the Justice Department\’s request for a stay to suspend the legal order until an expected appeal can be heard.
"Judge Phillips is right to stand with service members by rejecting President (Barack) Obama\’s request to continue this discriminatory policy," said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, which filed the lawsuit at the heart of the case.
"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."
In a six-page decision, Phillips rejected the Obama administration\’s 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 urged Washington not to further appeal the ruling.
"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.
He called the rule, a 1993 compromise aimed at resolving a long-thorny issue, "an unconscionable law that forces brave lesbian and gay Americans to serve in silence."
It was unfair and "detrimental" to national security, he added.
Although Obama has called for the ban to be scrapped and urged Congress to end it, the court order has put his administration in a bind as it carries out a year-long assessment of the issue due on December 1.
In a memo sent out last week to secretaries of the US Army, Navy and Air Force, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley said the Defense 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 Defense 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 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 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.