President Barack Obama and senior White House officials urged top lawmakers Wednesday to pass a measure this year that would allow gay men and women to serve openly in the U.S. military.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said a measure to end the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy would be considered as part of a bill authorizing defense spending and would be brought up for a vote after the Thanksgiving holiday break.
"Our Defense Department supports repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' as a way to build our all-volunteer armed forces," Reid said in a statement. "We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so."
Obama has pledged to do away with the 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.
A measure to end the ban cleared the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate.
A White House spokesman said Obama called Democratic Senator Carl Levin, chairman of a Senate committee on armed services, to reiterate his support for the measure being passed by the outgoing Congress before the end of the year.
"The president's call follows the outreach over the past week by the White House to dozens of senators from both sides of the aisle on this issue," the spokesman said.
White House officials also met with Reid's staff to press the issue, he said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this month he hoped the outgoing Congress would approve legislation ending the ban on gays but was unsure of the prospects for success.
Without action by Congress before the end of the year, it could become difficult for Obama to get lawmakers to repeal the policy in 2011 because Republicans, most of whom oppose lifting the ban, will control the House.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay and lesbian advocacy group, won a lower court ruling in October that barred the Pentagon from enforcing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy but an appeals court put the decision on hold. The U.S. Supreme Court later rejected a request to lift the appeals court stay.
(Additional reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Bill Trott)
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