SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court on Monday indefinitely extended its freeze on a judge’s order halting enforcement of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, heightening pressure on the Obama administration to persuade the U.S. Senate to repeal the law before a new Congress is sworn in.

A divided three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the U.S. government’s request for a stay while it challenges the trial court’s ruling that the ban on openly gay service members is unconstitutional.

The same panel, composed of two judges appointed by President Ronald Reagan and one appointed by President Bill Clinton, on Oct. 20 imposed a temporary hold keeping “don’t ask, don’t tell” in place.

Monday’s decision means gay Americans who disclose their sexual orientations still can’t enlist in the armed forces and can be investigated and ultimately discharged if they already are serving.

In an eight-page order, two judges said they were persuaded by the Department of Justice’s argument that U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips’ worldwide injunction against the policy “will seriously disrupt ongoing and determined efforts by the administration to devise an orderly change.”

“The public interest in enduring orderly change of this magnitude in the military – if that is what is to happen – strongly militates in favor of a stay,” Judges Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain and Stephen S. Trott wrote in their majority order.

Judge William Fletcher entered a partial dissent, saying he would have preferred the panel had heard oral arguments before granting the stay. Fletcher said he would have prevented “don’t tell, don’t tell” from being applied to discharge any existing service members while the case was on appeal.

President Obama repeatedly has said he opposes “don’t ask, don’t tell” but favors ending it legislatively instead of through the courts. Over the summer, he worked with Democrats to write a bill that would have lifted the ban, pending completion of a Defense Department review due Dec. 1. The legislation passed the House but was blocked in the Senate.

The president has pledged to push for another vote during Congress’ lame duck session after today’s elections.