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That policy requires commanding officers to determine whether troops in their charge are gay, but dropped the military’s practice of screening new recruits for sexual orientation.

Mr. Gates said last summer that Pentagon lawyers were looking into how to make the gay ban “more humane.” He said “one of the things we’re looking at is, is there flexibility in how we apply this law?” The flexibility he referred to meant limiting the number of service members discharged from the military after their sexual orientation was discovered.

Ms. Donnelly’s group organized 1,164 retired senior military officers who signed an open letter asking Mr. Obama not to overturn the ban on gays in the military.

Adm. Mullen has avoided expressing his views publicly on whether the ban should be lifted and has said that the military currently follows the law.

Retired Marine Corps Gen. Carl E. Mundy, a former commandant of the Corps, stated in a recent article in The Washington Times that the ban should be kept.

“Our military is engaged in two major conflicts and numerous deterrent operations and performing at consistently high operating tempos,” Gen. Mundy stated. “This is no time to subject it to risky, politically driven social engineering orchestrated to satisfy individual and special-interest demands, instead of enhancing military effectiveness.”

However, some of the military’s institutional resistance to changing the policy appears to be eroding. The highest-profile retired general who has come out in favor of lifting the ban is Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who implemented the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for Mr. Clinton.

In a statement released Wednesday, he said, “It is time to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and allow our military leaders to create policy that holds our service members to a single standard of conduct and discipline.”

On the same day, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said it would be wrong to lift the ban on gays in the military.

“With America’s sons and daughters fighting two wars, I’ve seen no data that would convince me that changing the current law or the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy would make their jobs easier or improve overall military readiness,” he said.

On Thursday, Senator John McCain, Arizona Republican, also came out against lifting the ban on gays in the military.