Obama Seeks Stay on Don't Ask, Don't Tell Ruling
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WASHINGTON -- Saying it would appeal a ruling striking down the law that bans gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the United States military, the Obama administration on Thursday asked the federal judge who issued the ruling for an emergency stay of her decision.
In a 48-page court filing, Clifford L. Stanley, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, argued that the military, particularly in wartime, should not be required to "suddenly and immediately restructure a major personnel policy that has been in place for years." Mr. Stanley said the injunction would disrupt efforts to prepare for a more orderly repeal of the policy.
"The stakes here are so high, and the potential harm so great, that caution is in order," he said.
Mr. Stanley's declaration was the centerpiece of a set of administration filings before Judge Virginia A. Phillips of Federal District Court. Last month, she declared the "don't ask, don't tell" law to be unconstitutional, and this week she issued an injunction requiring the military to stop enforcing it immediately.
The Log Cabin Republicans, the group that brought the lawsuit against the policy, vowed to fight the administration's appeal of Judge Phillips's ruling before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the request for an emergency stay of the injunction.
"We are not surprised by the government's action, as it repeats the broken promises and empty words from President Obama avowing to end 'don't ask, don't tell' while at the same directing his Justice Department to defend this unconstitutional policy," said Dan Woods, a lawyer representing the group. "Now that the government has filed a request for a stay, we will oppose it vigorously because brave, patriotic gays and lesbians are serving in our armed forces to fight for all of our constitutional rights while the government is denying them theirs."
Mr. Obama campaigned against the "don't ask, don't tell" law and has asked Congress to repeal it. But his efforts have been criticized by supporters of equal rights for gay men and lesbians as too slow and insufficient, and the lawsuit has put his administration in an awkward political position.
At a town-hall-style meeting with young adults on Thursday, Mr. Obama noted that he had been working on getting the law repealed and that a court had recently struck it down as unconstitutional, although he did not specifically address his administration's appeal of the ruling.
"I agree with the basic principle that anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces and make sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our national security -- anybody should be able to serve, and they shouldn't have to lie about who they are in order to serve. And so we are moving in the direction of ending this policy," he said.
But, he added: "It has to be done in a way that is orderly, because we are involved in a war right now. But this is not a question of whether the policy will end. This policy will end, and it will end on my watch. But I do have an obligation to make sure that I'm following some of the rules. I can't simply ignore laws that are out there. I've got to work to make sure that they are changed."
Meanwhile on Thursday, the top uniformed lawyers in each military service -- three-star officers known as the judge advocates general -- sent an e-mail to military lawyers in the field formally informing them of Judge Phillips's injunction.
"The e-mail noted that the U.S. government is contemplating whether to appeal and to seek a stay of the injunction," a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Dave Lapan, said in a statement. "The Department of Defense will of course obey the law, and the e-mail noted that, in the meantime, the department will abide by the terms in the court's ruling, effective as of the time and date of the ruling."
The Pentagon's general counsel, Jeh Johnson, was part of the decision to send the e-mail, Colonel Lapan said. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Stanley have both been part of a working group that has been assessing the impact of a repeal of the law, and developing a plan to implement it should it occur.
In his declaration, Mr. Stanley discussed those efforts. He argued that ending the policy would require training of military service members, as well as a reworking of dozens of policies and regulations involving issues like "housing, benefits, re-accession, military equal opportunity, anti-harassment, standards of conduct, rights and obligations of the chaplain corps, and others."
"Amending these regulations would typically take several months," he said. "To change all of the implicated policies and underlying regulations will require a massive undertaking by the department and cannot be done overnight."
First Published October 15, 2010 2:01 am