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Obama to take on military gay ban at `right time'

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October 4, 2009 11:10 AM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will focus "at the right time" on how to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military, his national security adviser said Sunday.

"I don't think it's going to be – it's not years, but I think it will be teed up appropriately," James Jones said.

The Democratic-led Congress is considering repealing the 1993 law. Action isn't expected on the issue until early next year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently wrote Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked to share their views and recommendations on the contentious policy. In Sept. 24 letters, Reid also asked for a review of the cases of two U.S. officers who were discharged from the military because of their sexuality.

"At a time when we are fighting two wars, I do not believe we can afford to discharge any qualified individual who is willing to serve our country," Reid wrote.

Jones said Obama "has an awful lot on his desk. I know this is an issue that he intends to take on at the appropriate time. And he has already signaled that to the Defense Department. The Defense Department is doing the things it has to do to prepare, but at the right time, I'm sure the president will take it on."

As a candidate, Obama signaled support for repealing the law. To the disappointment of gay-rights supporters, he has yet to made a move since taking office in January. The White House has said it will not stop the military from dismissing gays and lesbians who acknowledge their sexuality.

Last year, 634 members of the military were discharged for being gay, or .045 percent of the active-duty U.S. force, according to an Aug. 14 congressional report.

The largest number of gays who were ousted under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy came in 2001, when 1,227 were discharged, or .089 of the force.

The House is considering legislation to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" and allow people who have been discharged under the policy to rejoin the military.

Jones appeared on CNN's "State of the Union."