The US Army Secretary has said he will not discharge soldiers who tell him they are gay, despite the fact that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell remains official policy.

John McHugh, who is the highest-ranking civilian in the US Army, said at a press conference yesterday that a number of soldiers told him about their sexual orientation.

Associated Press reports that he said: “I’ve had men and women in uniform approach me and declare that they were gay and give me their opinion.

He added that he would not seek their discharges because “I just felt it would be counterproductive”.

President Barack Obama has called for the 1993 law to be repealed and last week, defence secretary Robert Gates announced changes to make it harder to fire gay soldiers.

These include disregarding anonymous outings, curbing discharges of those outed by third parties and raising the bar of evidence needed to fire someone.

Yesterday, Mr McHugh said he believed that there was essentially a suspension on discharges.

“What the secretary has placed a moratorium on is going forward on discharges,” he said.

He added: “It is not so stated, but I think [it is] a reasonable assumption.”

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.