Federal judge issues injunction stopping the enforcement of the ban on openly gay troops in the military.
|The Pentagon issued new guidelines to military recruiters in mid-October to process openly gay recruits [AFP]|
The military has said it will accept openly gay recruits for the first time in US history, even as it tries to slow a bid to abolish its ban on gays serving openly.
At least two service members discharged for being gay began the process to re-enlist after the Pentagon’s announcement on Tuesday.
The new requirement brings down the barriers built by an institution long resistant and sometimes hostile to gays.
On Tuesday Virginia Phillips, a California judge who overturned the 17-year “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy last week, rejected the government’s latest bid to halt her order telling the military to stop enforcing the law.
The US defence department said it would comply with Phillips’ order and had frozen any discharge cases.
Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said recruiters had been given top-level guidance in mid-October to accept applicants who say they are gay.
She said recruiters have been told to inform potential recruits that the moratorium on enforcement of the policy could be reversed at any time, if the ruling is appealed or the court grants a stay.
Douglas Smith, a spokesman for US Army Recruiting Command based at Fort Knox in Kentucky, said even before the ruling recruiters did not ask applicants about their sexual orientation.
The difference now is that recruiters will process those who say they are gay.
“If they were to self-admit that they are gay and want to enlist, we will process them,” Smith said, adding that the enlistment process takes time.
“US Army Recruiting Command is going to follow the law, whatever the law is,” he added.
Gay rights groups were continuing to tell service members to avoid revealing that they are gay, fearing they could find themselves in trouble should the law be reinstated.
David Hall, from the Service Members Legal Defense Network and a former US Air Force staff sargent, told Al Jazeera that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is not at an end.
“It is legal limbo. Judge Phillips says stop don’t ask don’t tell is not in effect right now.
“But we do expect that the appeals court is going to give this day to the government and don’t ask don’t tell is going to come back. So you don’t want to be caught up in that legal limbo where you may be discharged.”
Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a think tank on gays and the military at the University of California Santa Barbara, said: “Gay people have been fighting for equality in the military since the 1960s … It took a lot to get to this day.
“What people aren’t really getting is that the discretion and caution that gay troops are showing now is exactly the same standard of conduct that they will adhere to when the ban is lifted permanently,” Belkin said.
Under the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the military cannot inquire into service members’ sexual orientation and punish them for it as long as they keep it to themselves.
An Air Force officer and co-founder of a gay service member support group called OutServe said financial considerations are playing a big role in gay service members staying quiet.
“The military has financially trapped us,” he said, noting that he could owe the military about $200,000 if he were to be dismissed.