The Defense Department on Thursday declared that "don't ask, don't tell" is once again the law of the land but set up a new system that could make it tougher to get thrown of the military for being openly gay.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday ordered that all dismissals under the 1993 law be decided by one of the four service secretaries in consultation with the military's general counsel and Gates' personnel chief.

Defense officials said the change was not intended to slow the rate of discharges. In his memo, Gates wrote that the purpose of narrowing those in charge was to "ensure uniformity and care in the enforcement" at a time of "legal uncertainty."

Still, the move puts the question of who can be dismissed from the service for being openly gay in the hands of just six people — all of them civilian political appointees who work for an administration that thinks the law is unjust. Before Thursday's order, the dismissal of gay enlisted personnel could be done by any commanding officer at a rank equivalent to a one-star general.