But Gates said he was determined to "minimize any negative impact" that repealing the ban would have on troops or their units. "This can be done and should be done without risk to combat readiness," he said.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Gates in publicly voicing support for repeal, said he endorsed the results of the working group responsible for the study, which he said was given the "tall order" of assessing the best way to implement a change in the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy across all the armed services.
"And so for the first time the Chiefs and I have more than just anecdotal evidence and hearsay to inform the advice we give our civilian leaders," Mullen said in his prepared statement, adding that he and the chiefs met with Obama as recently as yesterday.
The findings add pressure on the Senate, with only three weeks left in an already overbooked lame-duck session, to pass a fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill with a repeal provision. Obama and senior administration officials have long stated their support for a legislative repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," preferring to have Congress approve language that would allow for an "orderly" implementation of a dramatic change for the military over leaving the decision to the courts.
Gates said that he did not know exactly how long it would take to implement the change in policy, and stressed that Congress should end the ban this year to prevent the courts from abruptly making changes. He said he preferred to take a "careful and considered approach" that he said Congress and the pending legislation would allow him.
"The key to success as with most things military is training, education-- and above all strong and principled leadership-- throughout the chain of command," he said.
The version of the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee contains language that would repeal the 1993 ban after the Pentagon certifies that doing so will not affect unit cohesion, troop morale, or combat readiness. The House has already passed its version of the defense bill, with an amendment added during floor debate identical to the Senate Armed Services Committee's repeal language.
Release of the Pentagon's report today may have minor impact on Senate Democrats' effort to pass the defense authorization bill. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the challenge remains winning floor time and the votes of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and one or two more Senate Republicans to line up 60 votes. Collins is a "good indicator of whether or not the floor process" satisfies Republicans, Levin said today.
Levin said Collins and other Republicans want enough floor time to ensure an open amendment process, which may be difficult to guarantee with the tight schedule. Last year, defense authorization required more than a week of floor time, and spending too much time on the latest authorization bill would crowd out work on other priority issues such as the fate of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts.