An advocacy group in the United States has launched a Congressional petition against calls for the country’s military to allow openly gay people to serve.

The Centre for Military Readiness claims that a “sexual agenda” is being pushed that “advances the goals of gay activist groups.”

Under a US federal law passed in 1993, referred to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” more than 12,000 men and women have been dismissed.

New legislation, The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the law mandating that the American armed forces fire lesbian and gay employees, currently has 142 co-sponsors in the US House of Representatives.

An estimated 65,000 lesbian and gay service members serve on active duty and in the reserves of the United States military, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network, a non-profit legal services, watchdog and policy organisation dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel.

An online advocacy website, www.americansforthemilitary.com, was launched by the conservative Centre for Military Readiness and urges voters to sign a Congressional petition to continue the gay ban.

“It is outrageous that some in our country would answer the service and sacrifice of their fellow citizens by calling for them to be fired simply because of who they are,” said Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) .

“PFLAG supports all of America’s military and their families, including LGBT service members. No amount of shrill fear-mongering will ever change the fact that our country is better because of their service.”

Last month US Presidential candidate Barack Obama told leading gay publication The Advocate he supports a repeal of the gay ban and is hopeful it can be achieved.

His rival for the Democratic nomination for President, Senator Hillary Clinton, has discussed options to remove “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” which was introduced during her husband Bill Clinton’s Presidency.

“I think there’s increasing recognition within the Armed Forces that this is a counterproductive strategy,” Senator Obama told The Advocate.

“We’re spending large sums of money to kick highly qualified gays or lesbians out of our military, some of whom possess specialties like Arab-language capabilities that we desperately need. That doesn’t make us more safe.”

Polls show that 79% of Americans support allowing gays to serve openly.

Retired high-ranking military leaders, such as former Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili and Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, have called for an end to the law, which is estimated to have cost American taxpayers more than $364m (£182m) since its inception.

“Our national priority should be on the qualification of potential service members, not on discriminating against them because of who they are,” Colonel Daniel Tepfer, USAF (Retired), a 23-year veteran who serves on PFLAG’s national board, said in a recent statement.

“I know many stellar lesbian and gay troops who also served proudly, but who could not serve openly about their lives and their loved ones. Our national priority should be on the qualification of potential service members, not on discriminating against them because of who they are.”