Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a public supporter of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, bristled at the idea today that a federal district court judge could mandate that repeal.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that abruptly ending the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as a federal judge has ordered would have enormous consequences.

A day after a judge in California ordered the Pentagon to cease enforcement of its policy barring gays from openly serving in the military, Gates told reporters that the question of whether to repeal the law should be decided by Congress, and done only after the Pentagon completes its study on the issue.

“I feel strongly this is an action that needs to be taken by the Congress and that it is an action that requires careful preparation, and a lot of training,” said Gates. “It has enormous consequences for our troops.”

Gates doesn’t really spell out those “enormous consequences,” “careful preparation” or “training” for just allowing gay service members already serving to continue. Somehow, Harry Truman signed an executive order desegregating the Army and the world didn’t come to an end.

It sounds to me that Gates is basically challenging the Justice Department to appeal the order, intimating that he wouldn’t honor it. Reminds me of Andrew Jackson’s admonition to the Supreme Court: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”

And there’s a double-move here, of course. The Defense Secretary wants Congress to change the policy, but only after the release of the Pentagon study, which will happen after a new Congress, likely to be more hostile to repeal, gets seated. This is all evaded with an assurance that the study only looks at how to implement repeal, not whether to enact it, and that such a change is only a matter of time. Robert Gibbs basically said the same thing today.

“The president strongly believes that this policy is unjust, that it is detrimental to our national security, and that it discriminates against those who are willing to die for their county. And the president strongly believes that it’s time for this policy to end,” he said. “The best way to end it is for the Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives so that that end can be implemented in a fashion that is consistent with our obligations in fighting two wars.

“Absent that action, the president has again set up a process to end this policy. And I think the bottom line is that recent court rulings have demonstrated to Congress that it’s time to act and end this policy; they demonstrated that time is running out on the policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the bottom line is this is a policy that is going to end. It’s not whether it is going to end but the process by which it is going to end.”

While there are some Constitutional reasons for the Administration to defend the law in the case of DADT and DOMA, it puts him in a terrible moral position, ignores the realities of the next Congress, and doesn’t gain the President or his party a single voter (while probably losing many more, or at least their enthusiastic support). But Gates’ defiance puts the President in a fairly impossible spot. The best way out in a situation like this may just be to say the hell with it and do what’s right.