A federal judge in California has declared the U.S. military ban on openly gay service members to be unconstitutional, saying the "don't ask, don't tell policy violates their rights.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips made the ruling Thursday, saying the ban does nothing to help military readiness — a statement that echoes past remarks from President Obama.
In her ruling, Phillips said the policy doesn't help military readiness and instead has a "direct and deleterious effect" on the armed services.
Philips is drafting an injunction to stop the ban from being enforced, but government lawyers say she lacks the authority to do so, and the Justice Department says it will appeal.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a 19,000-member group that includes current and former military members, filed a lawsuit in 2004 seeking an injunction to stop the ban's enforcement. Phillips will draft the injunction with input from the group within a week, and the federal government will have a week to respond.
"This decision will change the lives of many individuals who only wanted to serve their country bravely," said the group's attorney, Dan Woods.
Woods argued during the nonjury trial that the policy violates gay military members' rights to free speech, due process and open association.
He said the ban damages the military by forcing it to reject talented people as the country struggles to find recruits in the midst of a war. Lawyers also submitted remarks by Obama stating that "don't ask, don't tell" weakens national security.
Justice Department attorney Paul G. Freeborne had argued that the policy debate was political and that the issue should be decided by Congress rather than in court. The House has already voted to repeal it, but the Senate has yet to decide.
Six military officers who were discharged under the policy testified during the trial. A decorated Air Force officer testified that he was let go after his peers snooped through his personal e-mail in Iraq.
The officers who participated in the trial were "reacting emotionally because they're so proud that they were able to play a part in making that happen," Woods said after the ruling.
"It'll be an interesting decision for our president to decide whether to appeal this case. He's said that 'don't ask, don't tell' weakens national security, and now it's been declared unconstitutional," Woods said. "If he does appeal, we're going to fight like heck."
This article contains reporting from NPR's Mandalit del Barco and The Associated Press.