An official survey has found that more than two-thirds of the armed forces in the United States “do not object to gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform,” according to a working group tasked with looking into issues associated with implementing a repeal of the so-called “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” law banning gays from serving openly in the military.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen unveiled the recommendations of the working group Pentagon news conference on Tuesday.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, President Barack Obama, who has consistently backed the repeal of the law, said, “Today's report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families... are prepared to serve alongside Americans who are openly gay and lesbian.”

However echoing statements by Mr. Gates and other senior military officials, Mr. Obama added that the aim was to “transition to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security.” A court order mandating changes to the law earlier this year came under fire from the Obama administration for seeking to push through reform too abruptly.

Yet the President struck a more optimistic note for a change in law following the announcement of the survey results, and he said,

“For the first time since this law was enacted 17 years ago today, both the Secretary of Defence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have publicly endorsed ending this policy.”

Attention

Drawing attention to his preferred channel for ending the ban on openly gay persons serving in the military, Mr. Obama said certainty for Americans serving on the front lines of battles would only come “when an act of Congress ends this discriminatory policy once and for all. The House of Representatives has already passed the necessary legislation. Today I call on the Senate to act as soon as possible so I can sign this repeal into law this year...”

Speaking to media Mr. Gates reiterated his concern about minimising any disruptions coming out of a change in the law. “I am determined to see that if the law is repealed the changes are implemented in such a way as to minimize any negative impact on the morale, cohesion and effectiveness of combat units that are deployed, or about to deploy to the front lines,” he said.

Mr. Gates further noted that service members in combat arms specialties, especially in the Army and Marine Corps, but also in the special operations from the Navy and Air Force, had a higher level of discomfort and resistance to changing the current policy.

However, he assured, “In my view, the concerns of combat troops as expressed in the survey do not present an insurmountable barrier to successful repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.”

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