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Ending 'don't ask, don't tell' seems inevitable. But not soon.

US society and the Pentagon are moving toward ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military. But powerful lawmakers want to keep the 1993 law, and it may be other conservatives who convince them that times have changed.

By Staff writer / February 6, 2010

CodePink's Medea Benjamin demonstrates on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing related to the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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The end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the US military seems inevitable. US society – especially among younger Americans – is moving in that direction. And almost all US allies accept soldiers without discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

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But ending the policy of forcing openly gay men and women out of the armed services won’t come soon, and it won’t come without a major political fight. That was clear in the recent Senate hearing where Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen – both of whom favor ending DADT – took heat from Republican Senators.

With 41 Senators now, the GOP could block any legislative effort to overturn the policy, which became law in 1993 and therefore would take congressional action to change. And President Obama – focused on jobs and the economy, and with his congressional clout likely to wane even further with this fall’s elections – is unlikely to spend any more political capital on the issue.

The push from gay rights activists and liberal organizations is to be expected. But more relevant to ending DADT may be the respected voices on the right now speaking out.

General Powell changed his mind

Retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, who was instrumental in crafting what was seen as a compromise in 1993, now says lifting the ban is “the right thing to do.”

"If the chiefs and commanders are comfortable with moving to change the policy," Powell told the Washington Post, "then I support it."

Opponents to ending DADT say such a move would harm military morale and recruiting – especially dangerous at a time when the country is engaged in two wars.

"Nothing can or should be done that could harm military readiness in wartime," says Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, which favors continuing the ban on openly gay service members.

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