WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a constitutional challenge to the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military, a move that could effectively leave it to the Obama administration to resolve the issue.
The court sided with the administration, which had urged the justices not to hear the appeal against the policy, even though President Barack Obama is on record as opposing it. The court thus spared the administration from having to defend in court a policy that the president eventually wants to abolish pending a review by the Pentagon.
Echoing the administration's careful handling of the politically sensitive issue, Democrats who control Congress reacted tepidly to activists' calls to overturn the 1993 law that allows the Pentagon to discharge gay and lesbian troops who admit their sexuality.
Some gay advocates accused Democratic leaders of selling out. Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, said, "Every moment that the administration and Congress delay repealing 'don't ask, don't tell,' our nation is robbed of brave men and women who would risk their lives to keep our country safe."
Without comment, the court denied a review of the case, Pietrangelo vs. Gates, which was filed by James Pietrangelo, a former Army captain in the Vermont National Guard who was discharged in 2004 for being gay.
In opposing Supreme Court review of the Pietrangelo case, opponents of "don't ask, don't tell" have noted that Obama pledged during his presidential election campaign to end the policy. They say he appears to be proceeding carefully to end the ban by first asking the Pentagon to study the implications and report its recommendations.
When President Bill Clinton initially tried to end the military's ban on service by gays and lesbians shortly after taking office, a firestorm of criticism erupted. This led to adoption of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 1993.
Since then, its opponents say, the public has become more supportive of allowing gays to serve in the military. According to a July 2008 Washington Post/ABC News poll, 75 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the armed services, compared with 44 percent in 1993.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.