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US military ban on openly gay personnel 'should end'

Adm Mullen said lifting the ban would be "the right thing to do"

Openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the US military, the country's top commander has said.

Adm Mike Mullen told a Senate hearing into a ban on openly gay personnel that allowing them to serve was "the right thing to do".

He said there were practical difficulties in repealing the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy, but that the military could handle it.

President Barack Obama has pledged to repeal the ban.

Adm Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed he was "speaking for myself and myself only".

"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."

Russia and Israel have contrasting attitudes to being gay and serving in the military

He told the Senate Armed Services Committee the issue "comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals and ours as an institution".

His comments echo Mr Obama's State of the Union address last week, in which the president said: "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It's the right thing to do."

Legal compromise

Appearing before the same Senate panel, defence secretary Robert Gates announced a year-long policy review.

His chief legal adviser, Jeh Johnson, and Gen Carter Ham, who heads US army forces in Europe, will lead the review into how to go about lifting the ban on openly gay military personnel.

Has this policy been ideal? No, it has not. But it has been effective
Senator John McCain
Senate Armed Services Committee

Mr Gates said: "The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it.

"We received our orders from the commander-in-chief and we are moving out accordingly."

Under the law passed by Congress in 1993, engaging in homosexual conduct - even if the person concerned does not tell anyone - can be enough to qualify a person for dismissal.

It was introduced as a compromise between then-President Bill Clinton's desire totally to lift the ban, and concerns from Congress and the military that lifting it would be disruptive.

Adm Mullen said he believed fellow service members "can and would accommodate such a change" to the policy.

He added that he had learned never to "underestimate their ability to adapt".

Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the committee, said he was "deeply disappointed" about the review, saying it was "clearly biased" because it presumed the law should be changed.

"Has this policy been ideal? No, it has not," he said. "But it has been effective."

Recent figures from the Pentagon show that 428 service members were dismissed for being openly gay in 2009, down from 619 dismissed in 2008.

The number is by far the lowest since 1997, when 997 service members were dismissed.

Overall, more than 10,900 troops have been dismissed under the policy.



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Ten years of gays in UK forces
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Obama to end military gay policy
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