MELBOURNE -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday he hoped the outgoing Congress would approve legislation ending the military's ban on gays but was unsure of the prospects for success.
President Barack Obama has pledged to do away with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, adopted in 1993, but big gains by Republicans in the Nov. 2 elections have raised doubts about ending the ban once the new Congress takes power in January.
Republicans, many of whom oppose repeal, will take control of the House of Representatives and won seats in the Senate.
Asked about the prospects for repeal during the so-called lame duck session, Gates said: "I would like to see the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' but I'm not sure what the prospects for that are. And we'll just have to see."
Gates made the comments to reporters aboard a U.S. military aircraft shortly before landing in Australia for annual bilateral talks.
For the past 17 years, homosexuals have been allowed to serve in the U.S. military as long as they hide their sexual orientation. They are expelled if it becomes known.
Polls have said most Americans support lifting the ban. The House has voted to change the law but unless the Senate takes it up in the final weeks of the "lame-duck" legislative session, it will effectively die.
Obama is under pressure to act after a series of court decisions created confusion for the Pentagon.
A federal appeals court on Monday ordered the ban to remain in place while the Obama administration challenges a lower-court opinion declaring the policy unconstitutional.
Obama has said he was awaiting a Pentagon review, due in December, on the impact of lifting the ban on the military and would study it carefully.
Many Republicans, including Senator John McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, have said they oppose voting on a repeal of the policy before the Pentagon review is done.
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