|The 'don't ask, don't tell' law will stay in place as it is debated in a forthcoming legal battle [AFP]
The US military's ban on openly gay troops will remain in place while the Obama administration challenges a court ruling overturning the policy, a US appeals court has ruled.
Monday's decision means that the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" law will remain in place for the duration of a landmark legal battle that saw the policy briefly dropped before being re-instated.
In September, a district judge ruled that the law infringed on constitutional rights of gay men and women serving the military, prompting the Obama administration to appeal.
Barack Obama insists that he supports ending the "don't ask, don't tell" rule, but argues that congress rather than the courts should make the decision once the US military completes plans for an orderly transition to a new policy towards gay recruits.
The Pentagon has warned that a sudden change to a new law will hamper military readiness and cohesion.
The three judges sitting on the appeals court ruled 2-1 in favour of suspending the earlier decision, concluding that "the public interest in ensuring orderly change of this magnitude in the military - if that is what is to happen - strongly militates in favor of a stay."
It could be months before the appeals court issues a ruling on whether or not the law, which requires gay service personnel to keep their sexuality secret, should be abandoned in line with the earlier ruling.
The initial decision to lift the ban sparked confusion at recruitment offices, where a number of openly gay former servicemen sought to re-enlist, despite warnings they could face dismissal if the law is re-instated.
The legal debate comes at an awkward moment for Obama and the Democrats, who are facing a potential rout from Republicans in Tuesday's mid-term elections.
Many Republicans are fiercely opposed to gays serving in the military and are likely to gain from any controversy over social issues that could galavanise their conservative base at the polls.
The "don't ask, don't tell" law was introduced by former president Bill Clinton as a compromise between previous rules that excluded gays from serving in the military, and allowing them to serve as openly homosexual.
An estimated 13,000 men and women have been discharged from the military for being gay since the law came into effect, angering gay-rights campaigners.