The nominee for the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that it is appropriate to revisit the US military’s ban on gays and lesbians.

Admiral Michael Mullen, President Bush’s nominee to succeed General Peter Pace, was questioned about the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel during a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine queried Mullen on the continued dismissal of gay troops under the ban. While confirming that he would implement the current law, Mullen also told Collins that “I really think it is for the American people to come forward, really through this body, to both debate that policy and make changes, if that’s appropriate.”

He went on to say that, “I’d love to have Congress make its own decisions” with respect to considering a repeal. Mullen’s remarks follow a firestorm of controversy surrounding comments by Pace referring to gay personnel as “immoral” during a March interview with the Chicago Tribune.

Immediately prior to his nomination as Chairman, Mullen told The Brookings Institution in Washington that “If it’s time to revisit that policy, the American people I believe – and we live in a country – the American people ought to raise that issue and we’ll have the debate. As a member of the Joint Chiefs and obviously the head of one of the services, I will contribute to that and give my best military advice based on what – the debate that’s going on, and if it changes, it changes. I think that’s the path right now.”

“Admiral Mullen’s remarks are a welcome change of pace among military leadership, where there has long been an adversity to encouraging debate on opening the services to lesbian and gay patriots,” said Sharra E. Greer, director of law and policy for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).

“As Senator Collins rightly pointed out, there is growing concern among the national security establishment that the loss of talented gay troops is having a detrimental impact on our armed forces.”

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, a bill to lift the ban on open service, is now supported by 126 bi-partisan lawmakers in the House of Representatives. A recent poll of military personnel found that 73% of those surveyed were comfortable around gays, and CNN found last month that 79% of the American public support a repeal.

“More and more military leaders are willing to take a second look at this counter-productive law, and we are hopeful that Admiral Mullen is among them,” said Greer.

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