Judge Rules Military Must Stop 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

The Pentagon has been ordered to stop enforcing its policy that bars gays from serving openly in the military. A federal judge in California issued the injunction in a case brought by the gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Starting now, a member of the military cannot be kicked out of the Armed Forces for being gay. That's because a federal court has ordered the Pentagon to stop enforcing its ban on openly gay and lesbian members of the military. The question is whether the judge's ruling will stick.

NPR national security correspondent Rachel Martin joins us with the latest.

Rachel, good morning.

RACHEL MARTIN: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So what does this ruling mean for gay people who are serving in the military right now?

MARTIN: Well, what's clear, at this point, is that any investigation or potential discharge under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy has now been ordered to stop. Gay rights groups say that this is a major victory. But, at the same time, they are not encouraging gay service members to all of a sudden come out of the closet and announce their sexual identity, because they are bracing for an appeal.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has released a very brief statement. They say that they are studying the ruling and consulting with the Department of Justice, about what the immediate ramifications of this injunction will be.

WERTHEIMER: I expect you've been studying the ruling, as well. Can you just give us a quick rundown on what it says?

MARTIN: Sure. Just quickly, this came from a federal judge in Riverside, California - Judge Virginia Phillips. In her ruling, she says that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy, quote, "infringes the fundamental rights of the United States service members," that it violates their rights to due process, free speech and the right to petition the government for redress under the Constitution.

The ruling also orders the military to, quote, "immediately suspend and discontinue any of these investigations."

WERTHEIMER: And how is this different from other rulings that courts have made on Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

MARTIN: Well, it's important to point out that this is the same judge that ruled that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy is unconstitutional last month. Now, the Log Cabin Republicans, that's group that brought the original suit -thats a gay rights organization - they essentially wanted the judge to rule that Don't Ask, Don't Tell could not be applied against U.S. troops anywhere in world. That's what's different. So that was last month.

And for the last couple of weeks, the question has been: What will this judge do to enforce the decision. The debate has been over a possible injunction, a legal measure, where the court would tell the military - can enforce the policy because it's unconstitutional. And that's what happened yesterday.

So, all along, there have been questions about if this one judge could make such a broad ruling. She stated in the ruling, that because Don't Ask, Don't Tell is such a broad policy, it demands, what she called, an equally broad remedy.

WERTHEIMER: And how is the government taking this news?

MARTIN: Well, the government has tried to get the judge to - had tried to get the judge to limit her ruling to apply only to the members of the Log Cabin Republicans, which includes some U.S. service members. That didn't work.

The Justice Department also tried very hard to convince the judge not to issue an injunction at all. And, at the very least if she did, to issue a stay along with it that that would delay the implementation of the injunction.

She ignored those requests and went ahead with the injunction in the ruling yesterday.

WERTHEIMER: So now, I guess, the Obama administration's Justice Department has to decide will they appeal this ruling. Because, I mean, they have always opposed Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

MARTIN: Exactly. And this is why this is a very tough political question, Linda. The Log Cabin Republicans say they do expect an appeal. But they point out that the Justice Department doesn't have to appeal. They could just let this stand and Don't Ask, Don't Tell would be gone. And that is, as you point out, what the Obama administration has said that it wants - to do away with this policy altogether.

But the president, even though he's been very clear on this, is not giving any indication which way he's going to push the Department of Justice, if at all.

A White House officials I've spoken with say they want Don't Ask, Don't Tell to be repealed through the courts. They want it to happen through Congress. So now, the ball is in the government's court. The Department of Justice has 60 days to file its appeal.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Rachel Martin.

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