US military accepts gay troops for the first time in 17 years
The American military has been told to begin admitting openly gay troops to their ranks for the first time in 17 years.
The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that military recruiters must accept applications from gays and lesbians, following a ruling by a federal judge that a law banning them was unconstitutional.
Judge Virginia Phillips said that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law breached gay troops' right to freedom of expression and to proper legal process, and ordered last week that it be lifted immediately.
She is expected later on Tuesday to reject a request from the US government to stay, or postpone, her ruling while the administration prepares an appeal against it.
Earlier in the day a Pentagon spokesman confirmed that in the mean time it had ordered officers to begin complying with the ruling.
"Recruiters have been given guidance, and they will process applications for applicants who admit they are openly gay or lesbian," the spokesman said.
However, troops were warned that disclosing that they were gay could have repercussions if the government's appeal against the ruling is ultimately successful.
Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents troops affected by the law, said: "The bottom line: if you come out now, it can be used against you in the future by the Pentagon."
The Pentagon spokesman said: "Recruiters are reminded to set the applicants' expectations by informing them that a reversal in the court's decision of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law/policy may occur."
Barack Obama's administration is appealing against the ruling despite his calling for the law to be scrapped, because it says that such an abrupt change could be damaging in wartime.
The US President has ordered a year-long review of how ending the ban would affect the military. The review is due to be completed on December 1.
Mr Obama and his Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, have both said they would prefer for the law to be changed through Congress. An attempt do this failed earlier this year.
The law is estimated to have forced out some 14,000 qualified troops since its introduction in 1993.