Former US secretary of state and joint chiefs of staff chairman Colin Powell has said he thinks the military gay ban should be repealed.

Powell was previously in favour of the 1993 ban and helped pass the legislation.

But he said yesterday: “If the chiefs and commanders are comfortable with moving to change the policy, then I support it.”

Powell added: “Attitudes and circumstances have changed. . . Society is always reflected in the military. It’s where we get our soldiers from.”

The ban was a compromise allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the US military if they kept their sexual orientation secret.

But more than 13,000 servicemembers have been fired since it was introduced, having come out or been outed by third parties.

President Barack Obama supports repeal and this week, a Senate Armed Services Committee began hearings on how the law can be changed.

Defence secretary Robert Gates has begun a year-long review on implementing the change and Admiral Mike Mullen, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the hearings he believed removing the ban was the right thing to do.

Public support has steadily grown in favour of repeal in recent years. Polls generally show just over half of US citizens support removing the ban.

However, some military leaders are said to remain in opposition and critics argue that making the move in the middle of two wars is unfeasible.

Others have warned it will affect recruitment and morale.

Last week, President Obama promised he would work to repeal the law this year. This is unlikely to happen in 2010, as the review is scheduled to last 12 months.

Gay rights campaigners are hopeful that some changes can be made in the meantime, such as suspending discharges or raising the bar of evidence required in third-party outings.