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Court: Military May Keep Gay Policy For Now


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


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Yesterday, the Pentagon could not enforce its Don't Ask, Don't Tell law. Today, it can. And as for next week, we have no idea.

MONTAGNE: Don't Ask, Don't Tell, of course, is the law banning gays from serving openly in the military. A lower court ruled, last week, that the Pentagon could not enforce the law. The Pentagon said it would respect that ruling and even said it would allow people to enlist who said they were gay.

INSKEEP: That lasted all of a day. And now an appellate court says Don't Ask, Don't Tell is basically back in effect. We're going to try to sort this out with NPR's National Security Correspondent Rachel Martin, who's in our studios. She's with us live.

Good morning.

RACHEL MARTIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So what happened here?

MARTIN: OK. So it's important to understand that this whole back and forth, right now, has been about trying to figure out what the military should do while this particular case makes its way through the appeals process.

INSKEEP: And that's what's happening here. You keep going to a higher level and somebody rules differently?

MARTIN: Exactly. It's created a little bit of uncertainty and chaos. Question: Would the military enforce Don't Ask, Don't Tell as normal during this time of judicial uncertainty, or would the Pentagon have to abide by the injunction and suspend the policy.

The government has argued that that could create what we're seeing now - a lot of chaos. And they asked the appeals court to issue a stay, essentially keeping things status quo, keeping the policy in place until a final decision can be made about its future.

Now the 9th circuit, as you say, has agreed with the government and issued that stay. So that means that the military, can again, enforce Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

INSKEEP: OK. Don't Ask, Don't Tell - the double negative policy is now positively in effect for the moment. What reasons would the government have for seeking to do that?

MARTIN: Well, the government made several different arguments to the court. First, they took up the issue of jurisdiction. They argued that this one particular lower court judge does not have the power to issue a ruling that affects the entire US military, since the case was brought by one group - the Log Cabin Republicans, which is a gay rights group. And they argued that that group doesn't actually represent the entire U.S. military.

They also argued that if the court didn't issue a stay, it would create, again, this sense of uncertainty. And time and again, in the motion, in the actual documents, the government talks about how the Obama administration wants very much to do away with Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

But the government argues that this has to be done in a systematic and orderly way. And just ruling, all of a sudden that the law is changed and it's over, will essentially jump start this orderly process before the military has time to come up a plan to implement the new rules if the law is repealed.

INSKEEP: I think we need to explain more, what the military's talking about when they talk about systematic and orderly; because people know that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen want to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. President Obama wants to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. So if courts are pointing them in that direction, why would they fight so hard to keep it in place for a while?

MARTIN: Well, this is what is, perhaps, the largest bureaucracy in the world, Steve. It takes a really long time to turn this ship. And this is what Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen have argued. They say, listen. OK. We want to do away with this policy. Give us time to come up with a plan. It's not as simple as just saying it's over.

They're going to have to overhaul sexual harassment rules. They're going to have to address the benefits question. What do you do about gay partners? Is the military going to cover those people? These are huge questions that have to be worked out. They have to come up with a plan for sensitivity training for troops.

And so they're trying to come up with a way to make this happen in an orderly fashion. They've conducted a survey of troops - 400,000. The results of that survey are expected in early December.

INSKEEP: They surveyed 400,000 troops?

MARTIN: Exactly. And there are a lot of concerns that these troops are raising. We haven't seen the results of that survey yet. But the questions get very specific, you know? Even talking about - do you feel comfortable showering next to someone who may be a homosexual?

INSKEEP: So what happens now?

MARTIN: Now, there are a couple of different movements in different fronts. The Pentagon study's coming out. The appeals court has to take up this case. And Congress is waiting to take this up again in the lame duck session, unsure as of yet, whether or not they'll have the votes to repeal it.

INSKEEP: But for today, Don't Ask, Don't Tell - in effect, right?

MARTIN: For today.

INSKEEP: OK. Rachel, thanks very much.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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