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White House Vague in Response to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Decision

generic Obama Gays Military Army CBS/ AP

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military will end, the White House said today -- it's just a question of how and when.

President Obama believes it is "time for this policy to end," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today. Gibbs said the bottom line is that "this is a policy that's going to end."

Mr. Obama's Justice Department has yet to say how it will respond to the worldwide injunction issued yesterday to halt the enforcement of DADT. However, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today that the policy change should be made by Congress, not the courts.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled last month that DADT is unconstitutional, and after considering arguments for and against the injunction, Phillips rejected the government's argument that halting the policy immediately could have negative impacts on the military.

The injunction Philips issued yesterday stops all current investigations and potential discharges of openly gay soldiers, but the Justice Department could keep the law alive by deciding to appeal the injunction. The Justice Department has 60 days to decide whether to appeal, and has yet to say whether it will.

Even though the Obama administration says it opposes DADT, Mr. Obama's Justice Department has nevertheless defended the law in court, as it has defended legal challenges to other policies it opposes. Just yesterday, the Justice Department said it would appeal a ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

The president has been harshly criticized by gay rights advocates who say the president should take unilateral action to end DADT, rather than waiting for Congress to repeal it. Gibbs reiterated today that Mr. Obama wants the policy brought to an end "in an orderly way."

The House passed a repeal of DADT in May -- though the repeal would be contingent on the approval by the president and others of a Pentagon review of the potential impact of repealing the policy. The Senate, however, did not pass the repeal provision last month.

Defense Secretary Gates said today that repealing DADT will take time, the Associated Press reports.

"I feel strongly this is an action that needs to be taken by the Congress and that it is an action that requires careful preparation, and a lot of training," Gates said. "It has enormous consequences for our troops."

Democratic Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.), who is openly gay, said on MSNBC last night that Congress has a chance to repeal DADT after the midterm elections, in its "lame duck" session. He said the Justice Department should hold off on appealing the DADT injunction until Congress can make that attempt.

"They've got 60 days. We will have the lame-duck session convene in less time than that," he said. "Clearly what they should do is wait and see. I hope they don't appeal it at all, but it would be really foolish to appeal it before we can repeal it."

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group, warned gay troops in a statement that they were still vulnerable to DADT, even though the injunction was issued to halt its enforcement.

"It is still unclear if/when the Justice Department will seek a stay, or an end to the injunction, and it is unclear what will happen if/when DOJ appeals the court's decision," the statement said. "Also, regardless of what happens in the Congress, it is important to remember that the legislation being considered, if and when it passes, will NOT go into effect immediately."

Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.
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