Groups are taking sides and preparing to fight on the issue of the military's gay ban after Democratic Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama came out in support of lifting the 15-year old law.

Obama told The Advocate, a national gay magazine, that he favors repeal of the policy, often called 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', instituted during the Clinton administration.

“I would never make this a litmus test for the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Obama said in the interview posted on the magazine's website on April 10th during the heated Pennsylvania Democratic primary contest. “But I think there's increasing recognition within the Armed Forces that this is a counterproductive strategy. 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.”

Groups supporting repeal of the ban have been advancing their cause for years, but with Obama's remarks they may now sense a real opportunity materializing.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a group dedicated to ending discrimination in the military, has launched a new initiative to organize support against the ban. The group has planned a six city campaign that started in San Diego on April 23rd.

At the San Diego event SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said, “We are here to engage San Diegans in the effort to lift the ban on gays in the military...Change doesn't come from Washington, it begins with the American people.”

The group is hoping to gather support for The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R.1246) which would end the military's policy of firing gay & lesbian employees. According to SLDN 12,000 men and women have been dismissed under the policy which took effect in 1993.

But these efforts are being countered by groups who claim the ban is necessary.

A new website at was recently launched by the conservative Center For Military Readiness (CMR). At the site, CMR's President Elaine Donnelly calls efforts to repeal the ban an “attack” on the Armed Forces. She argues that the military should not be used as a tool to advance the goals of gay activist groups and that the ban is needed because gays & lesbians serving openly in the military would hurt discipline and morale.

Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PLAG), a pro-gay group, quickly condemned Donnelly's words as “misleading” and “disrespectful to America's military personnel.”

“It is outrageous that some in our country would answer the service and sacrifice of their fellow citizens by calling for them to be fired simply because of who they are,” said PFLAG Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby in a prepared statement. “Ms. Donnely has recycled the same tired, misleading and disproven rhetoric that has been used for years to keep too many qualified Americans out of our Armed Forces...No amount of shrill fear-mongering will ever change the fact that our country is better because of their service.”

Additional support to end the law banning gays from serving in the military has come from high-ranking military leaders, including retired Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili.