The commandant of the Marine Corps said yesterday he did not agree with lifting the ban on gay US soldiers being open about their sexuality.

General James Conway told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that he believed that the “current policy works”.

He is the highest-ranking military officer to disagree with president Barack Obama’s stance that the 1993 law should be repealed.

Gen Conway is thought to be the only chief to have carried out a survey of his generals on their feelings about lifting the ban.

In November, it was reported that he had been more outspoken than other service chiefs in his opposition to out gay soldiers.

Yesterday, he said: “I think the current policy works. At this point. . . my best military advice to this committee, to the [defence] secretary, to the president would be to keep the law such as it is.”

He added that repealing the ban should not be a question of fairness. Instead, he said, the question was whether it would “enhance the war-fighting of the United States Marine Corps.”

President Barack Obama and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen support repeal of the law, which allows gay soldiers to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation secret.

If they reveal it, or are outed, they can be fired. Around 13,000 soldiers are believed to have been discharged under the law. In addition, their partners are not informed if they are killed or injured in action.

Earlier this week, Army Chief of Staff General George Casey and Army Secretary John McHugh told the panel they did not support a temporary ban on discharges while a year-long review is carried out.

In the House of Representatives yesterday, Congressman Jim Moran read a letter on the floor from an active duty soldier in Iraq.

He said that the soldier had “learned that a fellow soldier was also gay, only after he was killed by an IED in Iraq. The partner of the deceased soldier wrote the unit to say how much the victim had loved the military; how they were the only family he had ever known.”

According to the University of California’s Palm Center, the unnamed soldier is the second publicly known case of a gay soldier killed in action during the current wars in the Middle East.

The first was US Army Major Alan Rogers, who died while on patrol in Iraq in January, 2008.

Statisticians have estimated that more than 200 gay and lesbian service members have died in action since the onset of the conflict.