The historic move follows a series of decisions by a federal judge in California, Virgina A. Phillips, who ruled last month that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law violates the equal protection and First Amendment rights of service members. On Oct. 12, sheordered the military to stop enforcing the law. President Obama has said that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “will end on my watch.” But the Department of Justice, following its tradition of defending laws passed by Congress, has fought efforts by the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay organization, to overturn the policy. Judge Phillips on Tuesday denied requests by the government to maintain the status quo during the appeals process. The Pentagon has stated its intent to file an appeal in case of such a ruling. But meanwhile, it has started complying with Judge Phillips’s instructions while the dispute over her orders plays out. New instructions were e-mailed to recruiters on Friday for handling situations in which applicants volunteer their sexual orientation. Recruiters do not ask about sexual orientation and have not since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law went into effect in the 1990s. Recruiters were also told that they must inform the applicants that the moratorium on “don’t ask, don’t tell” could be reversed. R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, applauded the Pentagon decision as “a huge deal.” Mr. Cooper noted, however, that under the new rules, a service member who announces his or her sexual orientation “does run the risk of discharge if the ruling is overturned — if there is a successful appeal by the Department of Justice.” “They do need to be aware of that possibility,” he said. Mr. Cooper, a member of the Army Reserve, said that he was taking part in training last week at Fort Huachuca in Arizona when the injunction was issued, and that he was surprised by the lack of visible opposition or outcry. He likened it to a “giant shoulder shrug of ‘so what?’ ” Most of the people he was with, he added, were younger members of the service, and “a few people actually thought repeal had already occurred.” Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, would not address a question about whether a recruit who volunteered that he was gay during the current suspension of the law might face expulsion from the military if the decision were appealed. She called that situation hypothetical and said only that recruiters had been reminded that “they need to set expectations by informing the applicant that a reversal for the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law may occur.” An opponent of service by openly gay men and lesbians dismissed the Pentagon shift as “a political ploy.” Elaine Donnelly, the founder of the Center for Military Readiness, a conservative organization that opposes gay service in the military, said Congress, under the Constitution, has the authority to draft rules for the military. The Department of Justice, she added, acted properly by filing its request for a stay. “There was no need to introduce this additional element of disconnect with the law and precedent and policy,” Ms. Donnelly said. “The military doesn’t need this — but this is what the Department of Defense did, and frankly, I find it inexplicable.” Military recruiters around the country were adjusting to the change in policy on Tuesday. Dan Choi, who was discharged from the Army under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” tried to re-enlist at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Times Square. Photographers and reporters crowded around the door, and they, in turn, were ringed by tourists and bystanders. Mr. Choi emerged from the recruiting station and said, “They’re processing me.” He added that the recruiters had not been rattled by his request, and he poked fun at the oft-repeated argument that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” would affect unit cohesion in the military. “They didn’t disintegrate in there,” he said. “Their unit cohesion is doing just fine.” Another former service member was not as successful in his attempt. Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, who is the president of the Log Cabin Republicans’ San Diego chapter, showed up at a recruiting station in El Cajon, Calif., on Tuesday afternoon to see if he could rejoin the Marines after being honorably discharged two years ago. The visit was brief. The Marines, the recruiter told him, had very few slots for prior-service Marines to return to duty, and the current quota was filled. “I have to wait now until December or January” to find out if more spaces open up, he said.
“I have no idea what to do now other than wait,” said Mr. Rodriguez-Kennedy, 23. He then went back to San Diego Mesa College, where he is a sophomore, to take a Japanese exam. Omar Lopez, who served four and a half years in the Navy and was honorably discharged in 2006 under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” tried to re-enlist the day after Judge Phillips issued her injunction. He was rejected by recruiters who said they had received no instructions about the injunction, or about accepting gay recruits. Dan Woods, the lawyer for the Log Cabin Republicans, sent a letter to the Department of Justice warning that rejecting Mr. Lopez and other openly gay recruits meant that “the Defense Department would appear to be in violation of the court’s injunction and subject to citation for contempt” of court. Mr. Lopez, a college student in Austin, Tex., said he is not a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, and in fact is “mostly Democrat.” He said he was gratified to hear that his experience might have nudged policies forward.
“I’m really glad that it had that impact,” he added, and vowed to try again. He said he was not concerned that returning to the military at this point might put him under special scrutiny. “I think I wouldn’t go back as a gay man,” he explained. “I would go back as a soldier.”