Lifting of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ delayed

US President Barack Obama said Thursday that he believed being gay or transsexual was not a lifestyle choice but was biologically dictated before birth.

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As his administration is criticized by gay and lesbian rights groups over what they see as slow progress towards repealing a ban on gays serving openly in the military, Obama weighed in on sexuality at a youth town hall meeting.

“You know, I am not obviously — I don’t profess to be an expert. This is a layperson’s opinion,” Obama said.

“But I don’t think it’s a choice. I think that people are born with, you know, a certain makeup, and that we’re all children of God,” the president said, in answer to a question.

“We don’t make determinations about who we love. And that’s why I think that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong.”

The president’s position is likely to anger some conservative, evangelical Christian groups, which argue homosexuality is a sin, and therefore involves choice.

He sought to delay the lifting of a ban on gays serving openly in the military, arguing that his review should be completed first, so the transition can be “orderly”.

Obama has long said he plans to scrap the controversial military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which requires gay and lesbian service members to stay quiet about their sexuality or face being kicked out.

But Virginia Phillips, a federal judge in California, stole his thunder on Tuesday, ordering the government to immediately suspend the policy.

The Justice Department reacted on Thursday, saying it was applying for a stay that would suspend the legal order until an expected appeal can be heard.

Obama made it crystal clear, in a message on the micro-blogging site Twitter, that the legal manoeuvers did not mean he was altering his position.

“Anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces and make sacrifices on our behalf should be able to. DADT will end & it will end on my watch,” he promised.

Critics say the law, a 1993 compromise aimed at resolving a long-thorny issue, violates the rights of gay military personnel and has harmed US national security by forcing out some 14,000 qualified troops.

Obama has ordered a year-long review of the implications of ending the ban, which is due to be completed in December and which will help draw up new rules of military service.

Later, in a television interview with the US cable channels Black Entertainment Television, MTV and Country Music Television, the president spelled out his thinking.

“This is not a situation in which, with a stroke of a pen, I can simply end the policy. It has to be done in a way that is orderly, because we are involved in a war right now.

“This policy will end, and it will end on my watch. But I do have an obligation to make sure that I’m following some of the rules,” he said.

“I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there. I’ve got to work to make sure that they are changed.”

As the Obama administration weighed an appeal, the Pentagon said on Thursday it had issued guidance to troop commanders to obey the court order.

“The Department (of Defence) will abide by the terms in the court’s ruling, effective as of the time and date of the ruling,” said Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

Lapan said an email had been sent from the legal branch of each of the military services to legal advisers in the field informing them of Tuesday’s injunction.

In the run-up to crucial November mid-term elections, polls have shown overwhelming US public support for ending the policy, while Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both backed lifting the ban.