Barack Obama is discussing how to lift the ban on gay men and women serving in the US military, according to reports.

AP reports that the White House has confirmed that talks to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy have begun, but the administration has not said how long this might take or whether experts will be commissioned to make an in-depth study of the issue.

In an emailed statement, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said: “The president supports changing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.

“As part of a long-standing pledge, Obama has begun consulting closely with defence secretary Robert Gates and joint chiefs of staff chairman Admiral Michael Mullen so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security.”

Yesterday, a bill to repeal the ban on gay men and women serving in the US military was introduced by US Representative Ellen O Tauscher, a Democrat.

Tauscher is the lead sponsor of The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, a role she took over from Congressman Martin Meehan.

The bill currently has 144 bipartisan co-sponsors. It aims to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy and replace it with language prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the armed services.

However, Dr Nathaniel Frank, the author of a new book on the policy, said: “Last time political leaders consulted with the military on this issue, the brass still claimed they had not been consulted, and the result was a disaster.

“Remember, Clinton insisted he was consulting on how, not whether, to lift the ban, and even so, we got ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

As a presidential candidate Bill Clinton had promised to allow gays to serve, but when he took office he was forced to accept the present policy in the face of opposition from the military and Congress.

The policy was introduced in 1994 and allows gay men and women to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation secret and do not engage in any homosexual acts.

According to the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network, nearly 12,500 servicemen and women have been discharged under it since its implementation.

It is estimated that up to 45,000 Americans have been discouraged from joining or remaining in the armed forces.