Top US defense leaders will announce Tuesday a series of steps toward realizing President Barack Obama's vow to repeal a ban on gays serving openly in the military, The Washington Post reported.
During testimony before a Senate panel, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top military officer Admiral Michael Mullen will tell lawmakers that the military will no longer seek to discipline gay service members whose orientation was revealed against their will, the Post said.
They are also expected to announce at the Senate Armed Services hearing that a group has been created to assess how to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," a law introduced in 1993 that requires gays to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face expulsion from the military.
Yet the defense chiefs are also set to caution that it could take years to fully integrate gay men and lesbians into the military, the newspaper said, citing defense officials.
Two individuals will be appointed to oversee a group that will draw up plans to integrate the armed forces, an effort expected to take a year.
The group is expected to address whether members of the military's five service branches will face any restrictions on revealing their sexual orientation at work, whether their domestic partners would receive Pentagon support and whether gay and straight military personnel would share living quarters.
"I don't think anyone is underestimating the seriousness of the issue, or the complexity of it," a senior military official told the Post.
But some gay rights advocates have been cool toward the plans, worried the Pentagon could let the politically charged issue drag on for years before implementing any real change.
Obama renewed his promise to end the ban in his State of the Union address last week, saying he would work "this year" with Congress to change the law.
Gates has said previously that any change in policy needed to be handled "very, very carefully" as the military was under strain from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In June, the defense chief said he asked Pentagon lawyers to consider possible ways to interpret the rule in a more flexible, "humane" manner as an interim step until the law is changed.
About 13,000 US service members have been discharged under the policy since it was adopted in 1993. The ban through 2003 has resulted in an estimated 95.4 million dollars in recruiting costs and 95.1 million in training replacements, according to the US Government Accountability Office.