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Lawmaker: 'Don't ask-don't tell' can be repealed in year

  • Story Highlights
  • Bill would allow gays to openly serve in the U.S. military
  • During run for presidency, Barack Obama said he would repeal "don't ask-don't tell"
  • Bill sponsor: New policy could pass in first year of Obama administration
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From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. military's "don't ask-don't tell" policy could be overturned in the first year of President-elect Barack Obama's administration, according to the lead sponsor of a bill that would repeal the law.

A bill that would repeal the U.S. military's "don't ask-don't tell" policy has 149 co-sponsors in the House.

A bill that would repeal the U.S. military's "don't ask-don't tell" policy has 149 co-sponsors in the House.

Obama has pledged to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military.

A spokesman for Obama's transition office would not comment for this story, but two months ago, Obama suggested he would move cautiously, telling the Philadelphia Gay News he would first get the military on board.

"Although I have consistently said I would repeal 'don't ask-don't tell,' I believe that the way to do it is to make sure that we are working through processes, getting the Joint Chiefs of Staff clear in terms of what our priorities are going to be," Obama told the newspaper.

Instituted in 1993, the policy ended the military's practice of asking potential service members if they are gay, but requires the dismissal of openly gay service members.

A bill to replace the law with a policy that would allow gays to openly serve has 149 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, including Ellen Tauscher, D-California. Tauscher said that with a new administration, the timing is right to try to pass the bill.

"The key here is to get bills that pass the House and the Senate, that we can get to President-elect Obama to sign, and I think that we can do that, certainly, the first year of the administration," Tauscher told CNN.

Gay rights advocates say it's important for Obama to avoid the approach used by the Clinton administration.

President Clinton initially promised to repeal the military's then-complete ban on gays with an executive order. But the plan roiled Pentagon brass -- including then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell -- and provoked a fierce backlash from conservatives in Congress.

Congress stripped Clinton of his power to change the policy and forced him to accept the "don't ask-don't tell" compromise -- a law that can be repealed only by Congress.

But after 15 years and four wars, attitudes in the Pentagon -- and among the public -- have changed.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll this summer found 75 percent of Americans support allowing gays to serve openly, compared to only 45 percent in 1993.

Retired Adm. Charles Larson, the former head of the Naval Academy, heads a list of more than 100 retired U.S. military leaders who have signed a statement calling for an end the policy, according to the Palm Center at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The think tank has studied issues involving gays in the military for the past decade.

CNN's Laurie Ure contributed to this report.

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