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Chesley Black Jr.

NEW YORK -- Elated by a major court victory, gay-rights activists are stepping up pressure on Congress to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy this month. They want to avoid potentially lengthy appeals and fear their chances for a legislative fix will fade after Election Day.

The House voted in May to repeal the 17-year-old policy banning openly gay service members. Many majority Democrats in the Senate want to take up the matter in the remaining four weeks before the pre-election recess, but face opposition from Republican leaders.

National gay-rights groups, fearing possible Democratic losses Nov. 2, urged their supporters Friday to flood senators' offices with phone calls and e-mails asking that the Senate vote on the measure during the week of Sept. 20.

"If we don't speak up now, our window for repeal could close," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Supporters of repeal hope senators heed the ruling issued Thursday in Los Angeles by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, who said "don't ask, don't tell" was an unconstitutional violation of the due process and free speech rights of gays and lesbians.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a GOP gay-rights organization, sued the federal government in 2004 to stop the policy, and Phillips said she would draft an order within a week doing just that. The U.S. Department of Justice hasn't yet said whether it will appeal the ruling; spokesman Charles Miller said attorneys were reviewing it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen -- both in favor of repealing "don't ask, don't tell" -- say they prefer that the change wait until the military completes a review of the issue. That study, due in December, includes surveys of service members and their families to get their views and help determine how a change would be implemented.

Gay-rights activists, worried that the election could tilt the balance of power in Congress, don't want to wait.

"We're pleased by the judge's decision, but this decision is likely to be appealed and will linger for years," said Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

The House-passed repeal measure is contained in a broader defense policy bill that has yet to be sent to the Senate floor because of an objection by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during debate in the Armed Services Committee.

McCain said it was "disgraceful" to push for a vote on the repeal before completion of the Pentagon review.

The Senate has a packed agenda for the next few weeks before its recess, and Republicans have warned that they might not make time for the defense bill if it contains controversial amendments.

President Barack Obama has said he would like "don't ask, don't tell" repealed, but wants Congress to take the lead in accomplishing that. Republicans on Friday called on the administration to defend the law until the Defense Department had a chance to complete its review.