A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals instructed lawyers for the gay rights group that brought the lawsuit successfully challenging the "don't ask, don't tell" policy to file arguments in response by Monday.
The judges would then decide whether to extend the temporary stay while it considers the government's appeal of U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips' ruling that the policy was unconstitutional.
It was unclear what effect the temporary freeze would have on the Pentagon, which has already informed recruiters to accept openly gay recruits and has suspended discharged proceedings for gay service members.
Emergency Motion under Circuit Rule 27-3
There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon, the Justice Department or the White House.
A lawyer for the Log Cabin Republicans said the group was disappointed, but called it a minor setback.
"We didn't come this far to quit now, and we expect that once the Ninth Circuit has received and considered full briefing on the government's application for a stay, it will deny that application," Dan Woods said, of White & Case.
The 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" rule says gays may serve but only if they keep secret their sexual orientation.
Government lawyers argue that striking down the policy and ordering the Pentagon to immediately allow openly gay service members could harm troop morale and unit cohesion when the military is fighting two wars.
President Barack Obama says he supports repeal of the policy, but only after careful review and an act of Congress.
The brief order was signed by the three 9th Circuit judges hearing emergency motions this month: Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, who were appointed by President Ronald Reagan, and William A. Fletcher, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.
More "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Coverage:
Judge Denies Delay on Gay Troops Order
Pentagon to Recruiters: Accept Gay Applicants
Will "Don't Ask" Appeal Hurt Democrats at Polls?
Gov't Wants "Don't Ask" Policy to Stay for Now
Obama May Seek Fast Appeal of "Don't Ask" Order
Gates: Court Shouldn't Set Policy on "Don't Ask"