|The ruling on Wednesday is the latest in a protracted battle over the constitutionality of the gay ban [EPA]
A US appeals court has temporarily granted the government's request to reintroduce a ban on homosexual men and women serving openly in the US military.
The three-judge panel on Wednesday lifted an injunction issued last week by US District Judge Virginia Phillips that barred the enforcement of a law requiring gay men and lesbians in the armed forces to keep their sexual orientation private.
Lawyers for a gay rights group that initiated the suit challenging the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy were asked by the judges to file their response next week.
The judges would then decide whether to extend the temporary stay while it considers the government's appeal of US District Judge Virginia Phillips' ruling that the policy was unconstitutional.
Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said "for the reasons stated in the government's submission, we believe a stay is appropriate".
But it was unclear what effect the court ruling would have on the Pentagon, which on Tuesday said it had already instructed military recruiters to accept openly gay recruits, and had suspended discharge proceedings for gay service members.
Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds said that Wednesday’s ruling had caused more confusion around the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which has been in effect for nearly 20 years.
"While we are disappointed with the court's ruling granting a temporary administrative stay, we view the decision as nothing more than a minor setback"
Dan Woods, Log Cabin Republicans lawyer
Barack Obama, the US president, last week said the Clinton-era law "will end on my watch" but added that "it has to be done in a way that is orderly, because we are involved in a war right now".
He said he supports the repeal of the policy, but only after careful review and an act of Congress.
Lawyers for the Log Cabin Republicans, a group which wants the ban lifted and which has been behind the legal action, voiced dismay at the latest ruling, but said they were confident of success in the end.
"While we are disappointed with the court's ruling granting a temporary administrative stay, we view the decision as nothing more than a minor setback," Dan Woods, their main lawyer, said.
Government lawyers argue that striking down the policy and ordering the Pentagon to immediately allow openly gay service members could harm troop morale and unit cohesion when the military is fighting two wars.
Aubrey Sarvis, a US Army veteran and the head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, adviced service members against coming out and cautioned recruits should they choose to sign up.
"The bottom line: if you come out now, it can be used against you in the future by the Pentagon," Sarvis said in a statement.
David Hall, a former US Air Force staff sergeant who was discharged under the policy, told Al Jazeera any move to repeal the ban or declare it unconstitutional will be through the legislative process, should the courts fail to resolve the issue.
"This is a complicated legal process which will take a long time, so we need to push the Senate to declare it unconstitutional now.
"You can't play yo-yos with our service members, especially those who are serving right now," he said, adding: "The gay men and lesbians are highly disappointed with the government, Pentagon and Congress."
Opponents of the ban argue that it violates the rights of gay service members and has harmed national security by forcing out some 14,000 qualified troops.
If the ban is lifted for good, the US 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.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies