Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has spoken out for a second time in nearly as many weeks about repeal of the military's gay ban known as “don't ask, don't tell.”

Gates said repeal of the law is “complex and difficult” and would need to be undertaken “carefully,” reports the New York Times.

“If we do it,” Gates told reporters on his plane after speaking at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, “it's important that we do it right, and very carefully.”

“The president has made it clear where he wants to go” with the law, Gates responded to an officer earlier in the day at the college. “Everybody in this room knows that this is a complex and difficult problem.”

“There is a law. If the law changes so will our policies,” he added.

“Don't ask, don't tell” is the 1993, Clinton-approved law that prescribes discharge as the remedy for gay service members who do not remain quiet about their sexuality or do not remain celibate. More than 13,000 members of the military have been fired under the law, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that lobbies for repeal.

Gates reminded the officers that it took five years for the armed forces to fully enforce former President Harry Truman's 1948 executive order that ended racial segregation in the military.

“I'm not saying that's a model for this, but I'm saying that I believe that this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully,” Gates said.

The Obama administration issued a statement in early March that it was discussing repeal of the gay ban with top Pentagon brass. White House Spokesman Tommy Vietor said the president has “begun consulting with Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and national security.”

But speaking on Fox News Sunday late last month, Gates said there had been little progress on repealing the law.

Chris Wallace asked Gates why money to enforce “don't ask, don't tell” was in the 2010 budget when the Obama administration has pledged its support for repeal.

Gates answered that it “continues to be the law.”

“We will follow that law, whatever it is,” Gates said. “That dialog though has really not progressed very far at this point in the administration. I think the president and I feel like we've got a lot on our plates right now and let's push that one down the road a little bit.”