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WASHINGTON — A lukewarm endorsement from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and opposition among some Democratic lawmakers cast doubt Tuesday on a White House-backed proposal to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Conservative Democrats were hesitant to back the compromise struck Monday by the White House and a small group of more liberal lawmakers who fear that repeal efforts will be doomed if Republicans regain control of one or both houses of Congress after fall elections.
The plan would overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" law but still allow the military to decide when and how to implement any changes to accommodate the new policy.
Gates said Tuesday he supports repeal but would prefer that Congress wait to vote until he can talk to the troops and chart a path forward. A study ordered by Gates is due on Dec. 1.
Some lawmakers took a similar stand. "I see no reason for the political process to pre-empt it," Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said of the military study.
Obama has vowed to help repeal the 1993 law, which prohibits the military from asking service members whether they are gay, bans homosexual activity and requires that gay troops not discuss their sexual orientation.
Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say they agree that the ban should be lifted yet want time to complete a wide-ranging study on how to do so without causing turmoil.
With the political clock ticking, several lawmakers were planning this week to push for an immediate suspension on military firings related to sexual orientation.
In a deal brokered by the White House on Monday, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., announced they would introduce repeal legislation that would require military approval before it would take effect.
Levin said he wasn't sure he had enough votes to pass the measure, as speculation surfaced that supporters were still at least one vote short.
While Webb said he would oppose the measure, Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, announced on Tuesday that she would support it. Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Nebraska Democrat who also sits on the panel, declined to say how he would vote.
Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican seen by many Democrats as a potential swing vote because he represents the heavily Democratic state of Massachusetts, said he was unlikely to agree to a repeal this week.
Gay rights groups are urging quick congressional approval of repeal.
"Without a repeal vote by Congress this year, the Pentagon's hands are tied and the armed forces will be forced to continue adhering to the discriminatory 'don't ask, don't tell' law," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Monday.
Even though I am a conservative on both economic and most social issues, I don't see the point of this policy. One's sexual orientation doesn't affect his or her ability to serve in the military. If a straight soldier's morale is somehow negatively affected by having to serve along side a homosexual soldier, well then that's the straight soldier's problem. It's the same argument - morale - that was used for years to avoid racial integration in the military until the 1950s. Racist whites, in particular those from the segregated south, didn't want to serve along African-Americans. While sexual orientation is not the same thing as race, in this case the policy belies stereotypical attitudes that should be assigned to the scrap heap of history.