A judge's decision to throw out a ban on gays in the military creates an awkward scenario for the White House weeks before a critical election.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday stressed that President Obama believes the 17-year-old “don't ask, don't tell” policy is “unjust,” but said the problem will take care of itself, in time.
“The bottom line is this is a policy that is going to end,” Gibbs said. “It's not whether it will end but the process by which it will end.”
The Justice Department is mulling an appeal of the ruling, under a policy calling for an automatic defense by the government of existing federal law, regardless of whether it tracks the president's stated beliefs.
But a move in that direction, coupled with an appeal of a separate ruling upholding portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, puts the White House squarely at odds with gay supporters at a time when rallying the base is central to Democrats' election hopes.
“I believe the president supports the repeal, he has made that clear,” said David Badash, a civil rights activist and blogger. “I do not think he or his administration has shown enough leadership.”
U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips of California earlier this week directed the Pentagon to “suspend and discontinue any investigation” into whether military service members are lesbian or gay.
Phillips ruled the 1993 law allowing gays to serve if they keep their orientation secret “infringes the fundamental rights” of those in the military.
The White House previously asked the Pentagon to review the policy and report back with recommendations in December — well past the Nov. 2 election.
The Senate last month blocked a move that would repeal the law pending the Dec. 1 report from the Defense Department. The House had approved the measure, which was also supported by the White House.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, urged lawmakers in Washington to reject the California judge's “liberal social agenda.”
“Americans are upset and want to change Congress and the face of government because of activist judges and arrogant politicians who will not listen to the convictions of most Americans and, as importantly, the Constitution's limits on what the courts and Congress can and cannot do,” Perkins said.
The Justice Department has 60 days to appeal the judge's decision, and is generally expected to do so.
Earlier this week, the department notified a Massachusetts federal court that it would appeal a separate decision that declared the Defense of Marriage Act an unconstitutional violation of states' rights.
Obama has consistently frustrated gay and lesbian supporters by opposing gay marriage in favor of civil unions, and for slow-walking the promised dismantling of the ban on gays in the military.
Melissa Kennedy, spokeswoman for the Log Cabin Republicans, the organization that challenged the ban in court, said Obama's leadership on the issue has come up short of what he promised in his 2008 campaign.
“All of a sudden it's mid-October, and he is definitely punting,” she said.