Retired US Army general and former US Secretary of State Colin Powell has backed a repeal of the US military’s controversial ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy banning gay and lesbian personnel being open about their sexuality.

The policy is currently the subject of a congressional review with President Barack Obama vowing to put an end to the ban in his State of the Union address last week.

Powell’s statement is an about-turn for the former general who, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, approved the DADT policy in 1993.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” Powell said in a statement.

“I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have both indicated support for Obama’s call to lift the ban.

The AFP reports it remains unclear if Obama can secure enough votes in Congress to repeal the ban while the president faces criticism from opponents of DADT for delays in lifting it.

There are still fears the change won’t come quickly enough and Gates has warned passing a change too quickly won’t be accepted by the military. The congressional review is expected to take 12 months.

With the policy in place, military personnel who make their sexual orientation known face expulsion.

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