Nightly News   |  February 02, 2010

Pentagon seeks repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

In a major step toward allowing gays to openly serve in the U.S. military, the Pentagon on Tuesday moved toward changing its policy on gay service members on Tuesday. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Sixty-two years ago today, President Truman ordered the defense secretary to take the needed steps to remove discrimination in the military. He was talking about race. Today the topic was sexual orientation , specifically the Clinton era policy known as "don't ask, don't tell," a policy that is now on borrowed time . More on this story from our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski .

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI reporting: At a hearing today on Capitol Hill , the nation's top military commander revealed the worst-kept secret in the armed services .

Admiral MIKE MULLEN: I have served with homosexuals since 1968 .

MIKLASZEWSKI: Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said it's time to scrap "don't ask, don't tell," the law that prohibits gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.

Adm. MULLEN: 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.

MIKLASZEWSKI: In his State of the Union , President Obama made repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" a political priority.

President BARACK OBAMA: This year I will work with Congress ...

MIKLASZEWSKI: Today, Defense Secretary Gates said he supports the president but indicated it could take two years to implement the change.

Secretary ROBERT GATES: The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change but how we best prepare it -- for it.

MIKLASZEWSKI: That drew a blistering rebuke from Republican Senator John McCain , suggesting Gates was playing politics.

Senator JOHN McCAIN: And it requires the agreement of Congress in order to repeal it. And so your statement, obvious is one which is clearly biased.

TEXT: Gays in the Military 65,000 Gays and Lesbians Serving in the U.S. Military 6 9% of Americans Favor Gays Right to Serve

Source: USA Today/Gallup Poll

MIKLASZEWSKI: There's an estimated 65,000 gays and lesbians in the military, and 69 percent of Americans believe they have the right to serve. Gay rights advocates claim the shift in public opinion is generational.

Mr. AUBREY SARVIS (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network): The majority of servicemembers today are between 18 and 34, and they have no trouble, no problems serving with gays and lesbians every day.

MIKLASZEWSKI: For now, Secretary Gates would like to loosen up on enforcement, to permit more gays to remain in the military while "don't ask, don't tell" is still the law. Jim Miklaszewski , NBC News , the Pentagon .