US Secretary of the Army John McHugh said this weekend that the military is ready to lift the ban on openly gay personnel.

He told Army Times: “Anytime you have a broad-based policy change, there are challenges to that. The Army has a big history of taking on similar issues, [with] predictions of doom and gloom that did not play out.”

McHugh is the highest-ranking Army official to show his support for repealing the ban.

Currently, gays and lesbians can serve in the military as long as they do not reveal their sexual orientation.

President Barack Obama has spoken of his desire to see the ban scrapped, saying recently: “I’m working with the Pentagon, its leadership, and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. Legislation has been introduced in the House to make this happen. I will end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ That’s my commitment to you.”

McHugh also suggested that the breaking down of the ban could come in phases such as allowing servicemembers to be open about their sexuality in some areas of the military.

Dr Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the Palm Centre, commented: “What we’re seeing is a tipping point in the opinions of both military and civilian leaders on this issue.

“The Army is the largest of the services and the most heavily involved in our wars abroad, and for Secretary McHugh to state clearly that it can handle repeal sends a strong signal to the other service secretaries that they can do the same.”

Dr Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Centre, said Secretary McHugh’s comments were enormously significant.

But he pointed out that there is no research to support the idea of letting gay soldiers serve in some units but not others. “The rationale for the ban applies equally across all job categories,” he said.

“So if it’s okay to be an openly gay Arabic interpreter, it’s also okay to be openly gay in the infantry or on a submarine. Since conduct rules apply across the board, there’s just no basis for applying different standards to different specialties.”