US defence secretary Robert Gates announced changes today to ease the law on firing gay soldiers.

Mr Gates said anonymous complaints about soldiers’ sexuality will no longer be regarded and discharges of those outed by third parties will be curbed.

He also said that the bar of evidence required for discharge under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be raised and more senior officers will examine cases.

The measures, which are effective immediately, are an interim step while a review of the 1993 policy is carried out.

Mr Gates has rejected calls to suspend firings completely while the review is underway. Instead, he said that the stopgap changes were about “common sense” and “common decency”.

An estimated 13,000 soldiers have been fired since the law came into effect in 1993.

US president Barack Obama promised to repeal it in his 2008 election campaign and surveys show that support for out gay soldiers is steadily rising among the public.

Some military leaders oppose lifting the ban and say it will harm morale and recruitment, especially in the middle of two wars.