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WASHINGTON — Congress’ leading opponent of the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on Monday reintroduced legislation to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., backed a similar measure last year. In a statement Monday, she said the policy has "failed our country and military for 15 years" and hurt readiness by preventing qualified citizens from joining the ranks.

The legislation would remove the current rules preventing homosexuals from serving openly in the military and allow anyone discharged under the policy to apply for reinstatement, though details must be worked out.

More than 12,500 troops have been forced out of the military since the policy was put in place in 1994, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a lobbying group that opposes the policy.

During his campaign, President Barack Obama pledged to end the ban on homosexuals serving openly, and the White House Web site lists repealing "don’t ask, don’t tell" as a key goal of Obama’s civil rights platform.

"The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve," the site states. "Discrimination should be prohibited."

But White House officials declined to comment Monday. Tauscher’s office said the president is aware of the legislation but has not yet promised any support.

But Tauscher said she did not feel she should wait for approval from Obama before moving ahead on the issue.

"It’s never too early to right a wrong," she said in a statement.

In July, the House Armed Services Committee held the first congressional hearing on the policy in 15 years.

Democratic and Republican leaders have promised to follow up with more hearings this session, but dates have not been set.

Elaine Donnelly, founder of the conservative Center for Military Readiness, said she believes both lawmakers and Obama will oppose the measure once they begin researching the potential effect on troops’ morale and desire to enlist.

"You’re talking about forced cohabitation with openly sexual homosexuals 24-7, in submarines and close quarters," she said. "This is a volunteer force and you can’t force servicemembers to re-enlist. So it would be a devastating blow when those who disagree decide to leave."

Donnelly also questioned whether the legislation would require chaplains who preach against homosexuality to support a revised policy or leave the service, creating uncomfortable moral mandates.

Nathaniel Frank, author of "Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America," said his research has found that changing the policy would not undermine unit cohesion, and that conservative members of the military have used their own biases to set anti-homosexual regulations.

"We’ve seen this is such a non-issue when it happens to militaries in foreign countries," he said. "And the climate is so dramatically different now than it was (in the 1990s) that I think you wouldn’t see many issues with a change."

In his book Frank — a researcher at the University of California’s Palm Center, which opposes the policy — argues that the policy will be overturned in the next few years, due to public support for allowing homosexuals to serve.

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