"This law has failed our country and our military for 15 years," Tauscher said at a news conference. "It harms military readiness and discriminates against patriotic young men and women who want to serve their country. It's time for Congress to right this wrong."
Tauscher planned to introduce the legislation today but did not because the weather kept the House out of session, according to communications director Jonathan Kaplan. The bill has 112 co-sponsors, he told Hotsheet, though no Republicans are among them.
President Obama has vowed to support a legislative repeal of the policy, something polling suggests a majority of Americans support. But with so many major fights on its agenda, the White House might be wary of taking on the issue anytime soon.
When Bill Clinton took on gays in the military soon after he came into office (crafting the much-maligned "don't ask" compromise in the process), he lost political capital and brought about criticism from both sides of the debate.
As Politico reports, political analysts warn that the issue could "galvanize social conservatives and other political opponents, strain the new president's relations with the military, and force him to squander valuable political capital that is needed on more pressing matters, particularly his economic agenda."
Gay activists counter that Mr. Obama has reached out to the military far more effectively than Mr. Clinton. As Politico notes, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is pushing hard for a repeal, potentially as part of the fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill likely sent to lawmakers in April.
The White House has said it wants a study of the impact of gays serving openly in the military, a process that could last a year, according to according to Logo's Web site 365 Gay. Sen. Ted Kennedy is reportedly working on a Senate bill to repeal the ban and seeking a Republican co-sponsor.
Mr. Obama's former rival for the presidency, Sen. John McCain, last year explained his opposition to repealing the policy.
"I believe the polarization of personnel and breakdown of unit effectiveness is too high a price to pay for well-intentioned but misguided efforts to elevate the interests of a minority of homosexual service members above those of their units," he said.
In her remarks today, Tauscher noted that Colin Powell, former Senator Sam Nunn, and 28 retired generals and admirals have called on the Pentagon to repeal the ban.
"There is no evidence to support a continued ban on open service, and every reason to allow lesbian and gay Americans to serve our country," she said, according to her prepared remarks. Tauscher pointed to other countries in which the integration of openly gay soldiers has gone smoothly.
"It is no longer a question of if we will change this law – it's a question of when," she said.