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Defense Department to say how it would lift gay ban

WASHINGTON - The Defense Department will say next week for the first time how it would lift the ban on gays from serving openly in the military, as President Barack Obama wants, according to the Pentagon spokesman.

Press secretary Geoff Morrell said that after studying the issue for a year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, will discuss their "proposed way forward" before the Senate Armed Services Committee next Tuesday.

Gates and Mullen were already scheduled to testify on the Pentagon's 2011 budget request. A separate hourlong discussion will be devoted to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Obama in his State of the Union speech on Wednesday urged Congress to repeal the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

His effort to eliminate the "don't ask, don't tell" practice faces resistance not just from Congress, but also from the Pentagon, where some officials have been strident in their support for the Clinton-era policy. Also, Democratic allies, gay activists and Republican opponents alike are criticizing his approach.

The number of dismissals due to the ban dropped sharply after the 2001 terrorist attacks as forces were heavily deployed around the world, with half as many troops fired in 2008 as in 2001. Between 1997 and 2008, the Defense Department fired more than 10,500 service members for violating the policy.

Obama should have announced a suspension of dismissals, said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

"The time for broad statements is over," Carey said. "We wish we had heard him speak of concrete steps tonight."

Some former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have acknowledged the current policy is flawed, and Mullen signed off on a journal article that called for lifting the ban.

Yet an in-house group that Mullen formed to advise him on the issue has urged a delay.

"The importance of winning the wars we are in, along with the stress on the force, our body of knowledge and the number of unknowns, demand that we act with deliberation," the advisers wrote recently in a memorandum.

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