The Democratic presidential front-runner favors repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays, which was instituted during the Clinton administration. He said his priority for the Joint Chiefs will be that they make decisions to strengthen the military and keep the country safe, not their position on the policy.
"I would never make this a litmus test for the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Obama said in an interview with The Advocate, a gay newsmagazine.
"But I think there's increasing recognition within the Armed Forces that this is a counterproductive strategy," he said. "We're spending large sums of money to kick highly qualified gays or lesbians out of our military, some of whom possess specialties like Arab-language capabilities that we desperately need. That doesn't make us more safe."
The Advocate provided The Associated Press with excerpts of the interview, posted on its Web site Thursday.
The interview comes after Obama was criticized by gay advocates for not speaking to the gay media. The Philadelphia Gay News last week ran a large blank space on its front page next to an interview withto highlight that he did not talk to the publication.
"The gay press may feel like I'm not giving them enough love, but basically all press feels that way at all times," Obama told The Advocate. He said he's frequently spoken out against homophobia and in support of gay rights.
Asked what he could reasonably accomplish for the gay community as president, Obama said he can "reasonably see" repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy as well as signing legislation to ban workplace discrimination against gays. He said he'd like transgendered people to be covered by the law, but thinks it would be tough to get such legislation through Congress.
Obama also said he's interested in ensuring that same-sex couples in civil unions get federal benefits.