In a rare interview given to the gay media, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said he was committed to repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” – the military's policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly – but would only do so after building consensus on the issue.

Obama spoke with Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal – an offer, Segal said, Senator John McCain refused.

The Illinois senator said he would not attach a signing statement ending the policy to a military spending bill, a process that President Bush has used to set other military policies.

“I want to make sure that when we reverse 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' it's gone through a process and we've built a consensus or at least a clarity of what my expectations are so that it works. My first obligation as the president is to make sure that I keep the American people safe and that our military is functioning effectively,” Obama said. “Although I have consistently said I would repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', I believe that the way to do it is make sure that we are working through a process, getting the Joint Chiefs of Staff clear in terms of what our priorities are going to be.”

Obama compared his consensus-building approach to ending the gay ban to earlier efforts to integrate female service members.

“That's how we were able to integrate the armed services to get women more actively involved in the armed services,” Obama said.

The “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy is considered by gay activists a betrayal by then-President Bill Clinton, who had promised to end an outright ban on gays and lesbians from serving in the military. Instead, the president devised a compromise policy in “Don't Ask” when he met with Congressional and military resistance. The policy allows gays to serve in the military so long as they remain closeted.

According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a group dedicated to ending gay and lesbian discrimination in the military, 12,000 men and women have been dismissed under the policy which took effect in 1993.

Gay groups have long sought to remove the prohibition. “'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' denies our families and loved ones critical rights and protections that no American, let alone those who serve in our armed forces, should be denied,” said Jody M. Huckaby, Executive Director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), in a prepared statement. “Under the law, parents have been questioned about their children, troops are barred from being part of civil laws recognizing their relationships and the children of same-sex military couples are left behind by the military's benefits system. ...['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] is one of the most anti-family laws on the books today.”