U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to a gay rights group that he will repeal the law that keeps homosexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military. The president admits that he has not made promised policy changes as quickly as advocates would like.
The "Don't ask, don't tell" policy allows gay men and lesbians to serve in the U.S. military if they do not disclose their sexual orientation or act on it.
President Obama says that is about to change.
"I will end 'don't ask, don't tell.' That is my commitment to you," he said.
Mr. Obama spoke late Saturday to thousands of people at a fundraising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization.
The president did not say how long it will take to repeal the law. But he said the U.S. cannot afford to exclude from military service people whose skills are needed.
"We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country," said President Obama. "We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we are fighting two wars."
Estimates say about 13,000 people have been discharged from the military for violating the policy since it was enacted in 1993.
Congress passed "don't ask, don't tell" as a compromise, after then-President Bill Clinton proposed ending the ban on open homosexuals serving in the armed forces.
Some high-ranking military officers have said the law should not be repealed, because allowing openly gay troops to serve would diminish discipline and morale.
Mr. Obama also told the Human Rights Campaign he plans to overturn the ban on entry to the U.S. based on HIV status. The U.S. forbids people infected with HIV from entering the country, saying they present a public health risk.
The president called on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, under which the U.S. government defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Mr. Obama also said lawmakers will soon pass, and he will sign, a bill defining violence against gays and lesbians as federal hate crimes.
The president acknowledged that many of his promises have not yet been fulfilled, and that many in the audience are losing patience with him.
"It is not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African-American petitioning for equal rights, half a century ago," he said. "But I will say this: We have made progress, and we will make more."
The dinner came on the evening before thousands of gays and lesbians are expected to march to the U.S. Capitol, demanding more government action for gay rights.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese introduced Mr. Obama, saying the gay and lesbian community has never had a stronger ally in the White House.