Remarks on gays surprise top US officer

2010-11-08 19:04

Melbourne - The US military's top officer on Monday said he was "surprised" at public remarks by the head of the Marine Corps who questioned the repeal of a ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairperson of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said service chiefs were expected to offer their best military advice on the issue "privately", suggesting the commandant of the Marine Corps had stepped out of line by speaking publicly.

"Actually I was surprised. I was surprised (by) what he said, surprised he said it publicly," Mullen told reporters at a briefing in Melbourne.

General James Amos, the new head of the US Marine Corps, told The Los Angeles Times in an interview published on Sunday that he was concerned about the effect of ending the ban - as proposed by President Barack Obama - at a time when US troops are in combat.

Amos, who assumed command of the elite force two week ago from General James Conway, said he was worried about the impact on unit cohesion and readiness if "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ended.

The 1993 law was a compromise that forbids gays from serving openly in the military, but also is supposed to bar the military from questioning troops about their sexual orientation.

With a Pentagon study of the issue due by December 1, Mullen said the heads of each military service had agreed to "to come together" and "look at the data and make our recommendations privately" about the impact of lifting the ban.

Lying about identity

Mullen, who said he had not spoken to Amos before or after the general's comments were published on Sunday, did not say whether the Marine chief faced a possible rebuke over the incident.

Mullen, who was in Australia for annual security talks, has been an outspoken advocate of lifting the ban, saying the rule forces gay service members to lie about their identity.

Other militaries, including US allies Britain and Israel, have allowed openly gay troops to serve without reporting major problems.

Activists say the ban infringes on the civil rights of gay soldiers, and a US judge recently ordered its suspension but an appeals court has stayed the decision indefinitely.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has urged lawmakers to repeal the ban in December after the Pentagon completes a review of the issue but before a new Congress, with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, is sworn in.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who says he supports lifting the ban, told reporters travelling with him to Australia that the prospects of repeal were uncertain following the mid-term elections.

Mullen said the Pentagon review was on schedule and should be ready as promised by December 1.