By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department has declared that "don't ask, don't tell" is once again the law of the land but has set up a new system that could make it tougher to get fired for being openly gay.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday ordered that all firings under the 1993 law must now be decided by one of the four service secretaries in consultation with the military's general counsel and his personnel chief.
The move puts the question of who can be fired for being openly gay in the hands of just five people - all of them civilian political appointees who work for an administration that thinks the law is unjust.
An injunction last week barring the military from following the "don't ask, don't tell" law prompted the Pentagon to order that recruiters must accept applications from gays, and military lawyers must stop prosecuting cases aimed at firing them.
But a Wednesday ruling froze that injunction. That means the military could at least temporarily return to its policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly, while the courts continue to consider the question.
Flaherty reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Anne Gearan in Washington and Lisa Leff in San Francisco contributed to this report.