The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday said allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military is "the right thing to do."
Adm. Mike Mullen's statement is the strongest to date from a top military official at the Pentagon in support of repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law.
It also came as Vice President Joe Biden vowed that the law would be eliminated by the end of the year.
"By this year's end, we will have eliminated the policy," Biden told MSNBC during an interview.
Mullen made his comments during a hearing on the policy by the Senate Armed Services Committee. While he told lawmakers he agreed with a thorough review of the policy, he also said he would welcome changing the 1993 law.
"We have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens," Mullen said. "For me, personally, it comes down to integrity: Theirs as an individual, ours as an institution."
The renewed focus on the policy, enacted during President Bill Clinton's tenure, arrives days after President Barack Obama stressed in his State of the Union address the need for a prompt repeal.
While the president's line drew praise from the liberal community, which felt the White House had heretofore ignored gay issues, many quickly faulted Obama for not specifying a timeline for the proposed repeal.
Still, support for a DADT repeal on Capitol Hill and within the Pentagon remains mixed. A number of Democratic lawmakers seem ready to overturn the law, and an effort in the House to do so already has well over 100 co-sponsors. But many Republicans — especially those sitting on the Senate's Armed Services Committee — remain adamantly opposed to such a change, which they argue would disrupt the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"You are embarking on not whether the military should make a change, but how best the military should prepare for it," stressed ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday.
"In my view, and I know that a lot of people don’t agree with that, the policy has been working and I think it’s been working well," he added.
Ultimately, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Mullen both stressed Tuesday morning that the Pentagon would keep those considerations in mind when it investigates a possible repeal. But Gates took care to note that probe could take as long as a year -- a timeline that casts doubt on the vice president's promise to repeal the law by the year's end.
In the meantime, committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) suggested the armed forces impose a moratorium on "Don't ask, don't tell" discharges. But Gates noted in response that Levin's approach might not be possible, primarily due to current legal restraints.
"We would look at it, but I can tell you the current law might not support it," Gates said, adding he would rather Congress take action.