The country's two most senior defense officials announced the first steps in repealing the country's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans openly gay troops from serving in the military, calling abolishment of the law "the right thing to do."
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a year-long Pentagon review of the 1993 policy, the first step towards reaching President Obama's goal of lifting the ban.
"I fully support the President's decision," Gates told the committee. "The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it. We have received our orders from the commander in chief and we are moving out accordingly."
Gates named a civilian, his chief legal advisor Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson and a soldier, Gen. Carter Ham, who leads Army forces in Europe, to conduct the review.
"The mandate of this working group is to thoroughly, objectively and methodically examine all aspects of this question and produce its finding and recommendations in the form of an implementation plan by the end of this calendar year," Gates said.
In the meantime, and in effort to implement the policy in a "more humane and fair manner" Gates said the military would "raise the bar of credible information needed to institute an inquiry" and likely suspend dismissing troops based solely on third party accusations of homosexual activity.
Gates and Mullen did not come to Congress with a concrete plan for repealing the ban, but rather an appeal for an open-minded discussion and plans to launch a review on how to best repeal the law.
Mullen said he knows many will disagree on changing the policy and said there are practical obstacles to lifting the 1993 ban.
But, he said, the soldiers on the ground would be able to handle the change
"I never underestimate their ability to adapt," he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who opposes overturning the law he helped pass in 1993, said of Gates' plan to overturn the law that he was "deeply disappointed."
"The essence of military capability is good order and unit cohesion," said McCain who called the repeal of "don't ask don't tell" an "unacceptable risk."
McCain said Congress polled troops in 1993 and found that they did not support openly gay men and women serving in uniform. He said the Pentagon's proposed plan does not adequately take into account the feelings of service members.
Adm. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the top brass supported the repeal.
"The chiefs and I are fully in support," said Mullen, who testified alongside Gates. In his personal opinion, he said: "it is the right thing to do."
Mullens said the policy forces gay troops to "lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
Public and political support for lifting the ban has increased significantly since President Bill Clinton announced the compromise policy in 1993.
In May 2009, a USA Today/Gallup poll found 69 percent of respondents favored allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
A bill to lift the ban, already introduced in the House of Representatives, has 187 supporters, 31 votes short of the 218 needed to get it passed.
More than 13,000 service members have been discharged from service since "don't ask, don't tell" went into effect in 1993.