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Ruling puts policy, military in legal limbo

Here is a brief look at the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Q.What does the law say and when was it adopted?

A.It was imposed by a 1993 law intended as a compromise between President Bill Clinton, who wanted to lift the ban on gays in the military, and a reluctant Congress and military that said doing so would threaten order.

Under the policy, the military can’t ask recruits their sexual orientation. In return, service members can’t say they are gay or bisexual, let it be known that they engage in homosexual acts, or marry a member of the same sex.

Q.Why did U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips rule against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law?

A.Phillips said it violates due process rights, freedom of speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Q.The Obama administration says it is in favor of repealing the law. Why did it challenge the court’s ruling?

A.The Justice Department court papers filed Thursday said letting the judge’s ruling go forward immediately would be a major problem for the military. Properly implementing any change in policy would be “a massive undertaking” that “cannot be done overnight,” the Justice Department said.

The department said repeated and sudden changes regarding “don’t ask, don’t tell” would be “enormously disruptive and time-consuming, particularly at a time when this nation is involved in combat operations overseas.”

Legal experts aren’t sure what would happen to service members who said they were gay after the law was suspended but before it was reinstated.

Q.Most Americans don’t seem to care whether gays serve in the military. Why is the military resisting?

A.Polls show that most Americans think gays should be allowed to serve openly. And for the first time, the Pentagon’s top leadership – Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen – agree.

But military leaders remain concerned because the military recruits heavily from populations that fiercely oppose openly gay service and worry that making changes too soon would prompt a backlash. Pentagon officials also say they need time to figure out details such as whether gay and straight troops would share barracks and whether gay partners should get benefits.