WASHINGTON : US President Barack Obama 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 "dont't Ask, dont'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 clear in a message on the micro-blogging site Twitter that the legal maneuvers 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.

And in a televised town hall with an audience of young people, Obama said he did not think being gay was a lifestyle choice and "discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong."

"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.

But the American Civil Liberties Union, which had urged the Justice Department to let the court ruling stand, expressed disappointment in the administration.

"The administration has more than discharged any duty it has to defend the statute, and should not seek an appeal. This counterproductive and baseless policy must be brought to an end," said the ACLU's James Esseks.

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 the television interview with the US cable channels Black Entertainment Television, MTV and Country Music Television, the president spelt 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 Thursday it had issued guidance to troop commanders to obey the court order.

"The Department (of Defense) 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.

"The email noted that the US government is contemplating whether to appeal and to seek a stay of the injunction," Lapan added in a statement.

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

Gates on Wednesday, however, said it was a complicated step that should be taken by Congress instead of the courts. Republicans blocked an attempt to end the ban last month.

Speaking to reporters on his plane en route to Brussels, Gates said ending the ban on gays serving openly in uniform "requires careful preparation, and a lot of training and a lot of revision of regulation."

If the ban is lifted, the Pentagon would have to look at changing the way benefits are handed out for troops and their families as well as possible changes to barracks or buildings at bases, he said.

"It has enormous consequences for our troops and as I had said from the very beginning I think there should be legislation," he said, without commenting directly on the court decision.

Channel NewsAsia - Obama seeks to delay lifting US gay military ban - channelnewsasia.com