Military commander says gay ban should be lifted

The top military commander in the United States told Congress yesterday that not only is it time to review the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays serving in the military instituted by former President Bill Clinton but that getting rid of it entirely would be the "right thing to do".

Both the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, gave a push to the scrapping of the policy at a hearing on Capitol Hill. Mr Gates said he was ordering a one-year review but that he expected enforcement of the Clinton-era policy to be relaxed in the meantime. Almost 11,000 personnel have been dismissed under the policy, sometimes after being exposed by a jilted lover.

President Barack Obama asked for the change in his State of the Union address last week. Mr Gates said he had appointed the Pentagon's top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, and the US Army commander in Europe, General Carter Ham, to lead the review.

Only Admiral Mullen went so far as to explicitly endorse the end of "don't ask, don't tell", though he emphasised he was "speaking for myself and myself only".

He elaborated: "No matter how I look at the 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." Getting rid of the old policy was simply "the right thing to do".

If the Pentagon concludes after the review that it can transition to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, just as the British armed forces did a decade ago, it will then be up to Congress to repeal the law enacted under President Clinton in 1993. That may still prove a contentious process, however.