The US Senate will hold congressional hearings into the country’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

The policy prevents openly gay men and women from serving in the US military and has so far seen nearly 13,000 servicemen and women dismissed on the grounds of their sexuality.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has led a campaign against it.

She announced on Monday that the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on the controversial policy in the autumn.
.
A spokeswoman for the committee confirmed this, but said no specific legislation is being considered.

Gillibrand had originally proposed an amendment to the defence authorisation bill for an 18-month moratorium to be put on the policy, but dropped it last week after she failed to round up the necessary 60 votes.

In a statement, Gillibrand said: “This policy is wrong for our national security and wrong for the moral foundation upon which our country was founded . . . `Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is an unfair, outdated measure that violates the civil rights of some of our bravest, most heroic men and women. By repealing this policy, we will increase America’s strength – both militarily and morally.”

She added that a recent poll had shown that 69 per cent of Americans favour military service by openly gay men and lesbians and commented: “More than 100 retired US military leaders – including the former head of the Naval Academy – signed on to a statement last November calling for an end to ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy.”

The law was introduced in 1993 by President Clinton as a way of relaxing restrictions on gay people serving in the military.

The policy has come under intense scrutiny recently, with former secretary of state Colin Powell, himself a retired general, saying last month that while he supported the bill upon its inception, “Sixteen years have now gone by, and I think a lot has changed with respect to attitudes within our country, and therefore I think this is a policy and a law that should be reviewed”.

President Obama has said he wants the law repealed, but many gay rights groups are angry that the president has not done more to change the legislation.

CNN reports that, since Obama took office, 287 servicemen and women have been discharged on grounds of sexual orientation.

However, there is plenty of opposition to repealing the law. In the spring, more than 1,000 retired officers signed a letter organised by Flag and General Officers for the Military, a group created to uphold the 1993 law.

They urged Obama not to repeal the legislation.

“We believe that imposing this burden on our men and women in uniform would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the all-volunteer force,” the letter said.