Five new lawmakers, including the highest ranking military veteran in Congress, have joined 126 other lawmakers in supporting legislation to repeal the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service personnel.

The Representatives, all Democrats, became co-sponsors of The Military Readiness Enhancement Act on Friday, bringing the total number of supporters to 131.

Among them is Joe Sestak, Congress’s highest-ranking veteran.

He served 31 years in the United States Navy and retired in 2005 as a 3-star Admiral.

There is strong bipartisan support for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” among politicians, members of the US Armed Forces and the American public.

Last week Admiral Michael Mullen, President Bush’s nominee to succeed General Peter Pace as Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff called for a national debate about the current law, banning gay, bisexual and lesbian people to serve in the US military.

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act is sponsored by California Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher.

“Congress is steadily moving toward lifting the ban and welcoming lesbian and gay Americans who want to serve our country,” said Sharra E. Greer, director of law and policy for Servicemembers Legal Defence Network (SLDN).

“Americans overwhelmingly support repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and value the contributions that gay troops bring to our armed forces.

“When it comes to capturing terrorists, deciphering intelligence and protecting our nation, sexual orientation is irrelevant. It is talent and skill that is paramount to our success at home and abroad.”

Congresswoman Susan Davis, chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, has said she intends to hold hearings on the issue.

Nearly all other Western nations allow openly gay, bisexual and lesbian people to serve openly in their Armed Forces. Even Russia allows “well-adjusted” homosexuals to serve their country.

In the UK the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force not only allow LGBT people to serve but actively support them.

The Navy and Air Force are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, a good practice forum where employers work with Stonewall and each other, to promote lesbian, gay and bisexual equality in the workplace.

The American military discharges two lesbian, gay or bisexual recruits a day.