SAN DIEGO – At least three service members discharged for being gay have begun the process to re-enlist after the Pentagon directed the military to accept openly gay recruits for the first time in the nation's history.
The top-level guidance issued to recruiting commands last week and announced Tuesday marked a significant change in an institution long resistant and sometimes hostile to gays.
"Gay people have been fighting for equality in the military since the 1960s," said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a think tank on gays and the military at the University of California Santa Barbara. "It took a lot to get to this day."
The movement to overturn the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy gained speed when President Barack Obama campaigned on its repeal. The effort stalled in Congress this fall and found new life last month when a federal judge in California declared it unconstitutional.
The recruiting announcement came even as the Justice Department battles in the courts to slow the movement to abolish the 1993 Clinton-era policy.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips rejected the government's latest effort Tuesday to halt her order telling the military to stop enforcing the law. Government lawyers have said they will appeal.
The Defense Department has said it would comply with Phillips' order and had frozen any discharge cases. Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said Tuesday recruiters had been given top-level guidance to accept applicants who say they are gay.