Administration Asks for Stay in 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Case

In a move that will surely disappoint gay-rights groups who have been patient with the Obama White House since the president's first day in office, the Department of Justice has asked federal Judge Virginia Phillips of California to stay her ruling against the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

The move was expected, although, as Marc reported earlier today, the decision process was not so cut and dried: senior administration officials were still debating whether or not to seek the stay as news outlets reported that the Justice Dept. would indeed ask for it.

Phillips had ruled in September that the DADT policy is fundamentally unconstitutional meaning the military would, in theory, have to stop the practice immediately.

Most observers would agree that DADT is on its last legs, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates has bristled at the idea of stopping it abruptly in response to the court ruling. The Defense Dept. is undertaking a review of the policy, the results of which are due in December, and Gates said today that an abrupt end to DADT would have "enormous consequences for our troops." Both Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen have signaled that they want the policy to end.

Gay rights activists do not like this fiddling: they want the policy to end now. Even since the spring of 2009--mere months after Obama took office--activists have complained that Obama had promised an end to DADT and had yet to deliver it. As a civil rights matter, they've said, every day the policy stands is an affront to gay servicemembers, and the seeming lack of urgency in setting things aright has, to them, been frustrating.

In response to Pillips's ruling last month, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said: "This filing in no way diminishes the president's firm commitment to achieve a legislative repeal of DADT -- indeed, it clearly shows why Congress must act to end this misguided policy."

The administration cannot end the policy on its own--either Congress or the courts must undo it--and the administration, while it wants to see DADT sunsetted, is apparently uncomfortable with an immediate end at the hand of a federal judge.