Efforts to repeal the US military’s ban on same-sex personnel have begun in Washington, with top military leaders urging that the law be revoked by the nation’s lawmakers.

At a historic hearing on Tuesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it was his “personal and professional belief that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be the right thing to do”.

“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. For me, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution,” he said.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates seemed more cautious, saying that he was at the hearing on behalf of President Barack Obama. “We have received our orders from the commander in chief, and we are moving out accordingly,” he said.

He announced a year-long Pentagon review of the ban, noting that “…we can also take this process only so far, as the ultimate decision rests with you, the Congress”.

Gates further added that the military would in the meantime work towards enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “in a fairer manner”.

“We believe that we have a degree of latitude within the existing law to change our internal procedures in a manner that is more appropriate and fair to our men and women in uniform,” he said.

The Human Rights Campaign, the US’s largest LGBT rights organisation, described the hearing as “a historic step forward in repealing a shameful law that has harmed the military, discharged thousands of talented and patriotic Americans and prevented thousands more from serving their country”.

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