The military will tell potential recruits that the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" rule could still be reinstated depending on the outcome of pending court decisions.

"Recruiters have been given guidance, and they will process applications for applicants who admit they are openly gay or lesbian," Cynthia Smith, spokesperson for the Pentagon, told AFP.

But she added: "Recruiters are reminded to set the applicants' expectations by informing them that a reversal in the court's decision of the "don't ask, don't tell" law/policy may occur."

Recently, Virginia Phillips, a federal judge in California, ordered the government to immediately suspend the rule, which requires gay troops to keep quiet about their sexuality or face expulsion.

Judge: Evidence ineffective

In a six-page decision, she rejected the argument that suspending the ban could harm military readiness.

"They had the chance to introduce evidence to that effect at trial," Phillips said. "Defendants did not do so. The evidence they belatedly present now does not meet their burden to obtain a stay."

Gay rights' groups hailed the new ruling - and urged Washington not to appeal it further.

"Judge Phillips once again did the right thing for our national security. We call on the administration not to appeal her decision," said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.

The "don't ask, don't tell" rule "is an unconscionable law that forces brave lesbian and gay Americans to serve in silence ... The law is detrimental, not only to our national security, but also to the core American value of fairness," he added.

Effect for Obama government

Although President Obama has called for Congress to scrap the law and end the ban, the court order has put his administration in a bind as it tries to carry out a review of the issue.

Obama had ordered a year-long assessment of how ending the ban would affect military readiness, effectiveness and unit cohesion, which is due to be completed on December 1.

Under Secretary of Defence for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley said in a memo that the Defence Department "will abide by the terms of the injunction" from the federal judge.

He ordered the military's department secretaries to "ensure immediate compliance" with his memo.

"It remains the policy of the Department of Defence not to ask service members or applicants about their sexual orientation, to treat all members with dignity and respect, and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline," he added.

Opponents: Harms national security

Opponents of the ban argue it violates the rights of gay service members and has harmed national security by forcing out some 14 000 qualified troops.

Advocates of the "don't ask, don't tell" rule, including the outgoing head of the US Marine Corps, say it ensures "unit cohesion", and that changing the law during wartime could prove disruptive.

Polls have shown a majority of Americans support ending the ban, but Republican lawmakers, including former presidential candidate John McCain, opposed the most recent attempt to change the rule.

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