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Top military chief endorses Obama plan to lift ban on gays
The US military’s top officer, Admiral Mullen, has endorsed President Barack Obama’s pledge to lift a ban on gays serving openly in the military. Currently, the 1993 law requires members of the military to keep quiet about their sexual orientation.
AFP - The US military's top officer on Tuesday delivered an ardent appeal for lifting the ban on gays serving openly in uniform, saying it was "the right thing to do."
In dramatic testimony before a Senate panel, Admiral Mike Mullen became the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to endorse repealing the ban, providing a powerful boost to President Barack Obama's bid to change the policy.
"Speaking for myself, and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do," Mullen said.
"No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
Wading into politically sensitive territory, Mullen said the issue "comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."
The admiral said he was optimistic that members of the military "can and would accommodate such a change," saying he had learned never to "underestimate their ability to adapt."
Obama, who had postponed action on the issue in his first year in office, last week renewed his vow to change the 1993 law that requires service members to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face expulsion from the military.
Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled a year-long review Tuesday to prepare the way for repealing the ban, promising it would be thorough and deliberate.
Gates said the question was not whether to lift the ban "but how best to prepare for it."
The review, which would look at the potential effect on base housing, compensation and other issues, will be led by the Pentagon's general counsel, Jeh Johnson, and the commander of US Army forces in Europe, General Carter Ham.
The study would be followed by a plan to carry out the repeal, a decision that ultimately rested with Congress, Gates said.
He added he asked his legal advisors to outline options within 45 days for easing the enforcement of the current law as an interim step before the eventual lifting of the ban.
He said the shift in interpreting the current law would be designed in part "to reduce the instances in which a service member is outed by a third person with a motive to harm a service member."
The 1993 law, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," replaced an outright prohibition against homosexuals in the military.
Former president Bill Clinton agreed to the compromise policy after meeting stiff resistance from commanders and lawmakers when he proposed allowing gays to serve openly in uniform.
Senator John McCain, a Vietnam war hero and former Republican presidential candidate, blasted plans to repeal the ban, saying it was not the time to change the rule when the military was fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Has this policy been ideal? No, it has not. But it has been effective," said McCain.
"It has helped to balance a potentially disruptive tension between the desires of a minority and the broader interests of our all-volunteer force," said the senator, warning it could undermine "unit cohesion."
Tuesday's hearing came as the Pentagon released figures that showed the number of those discharged in 2009 under the law had declined by about 30 percent compared to the previous year.
Officials said 428 service members -- 259 men and 169 women -- were discharged last year.
A group that advocates ending the ban, the Service Members Legal Defense Fund, said "the new trend is indeed welcoming news, but it is not a substitute for full repeal in 2010."
About 13,000 US service members have been discharged under the policy since it was adopted in 1993.
The ban through 2003 has resulted in an estimated 95.4 million dollars in recruiting costs and 95.1 million in training replacements, according to the US Government Accountability Office.
Most polls show a majority of Americans support allowing openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the US military.
Supporters of a repeal say the law is unjust, deprives the military of qualified service members and that armies in other countries allow gays to serve openly without major problems.