Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman announced Monday that he will back a bill in the Senate to overturn “don't ask, don't tell,” the law that outlaws gay troops from serving openly.

“I will be proud to be a sponsor of the important effort to enable patriotic gay Americans to defend our national security and our founding values of freedom and opportunity,” Lieberman said in a statement.

Analysts had expected Lieberman to take up the bill; several news outlets have reported that the Independent senator was in negotiations with the White House on the issue.

“To exclude one group of Americans from serving in the armed forces is contrary to our fundamental principles as outlined in the Declaration of Independence and weakens our defenses by denying our military the service of a large group of Americans who can help our case,” he added.

A House version of the bill was introduced last spring by California Representative Ellen Tauscher but sponsorship was later transferred to Pennsylvania Representative Patrick Murphy, a decorated Iraq veteran, when Tauscher accepted a post in the Obama administration.

The House version of the bill that would allow gay men and lesbian service members to openly declare their sexual orientation without risk of losing their jobs has attracted 187 co-sponsors and is awaiting a hearing in a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

Lieberman's Senate bill will likely be heard in Michigan Senator Carl Levin's Senate Armed Services Committee.

The panel has already heard testimony on the issue from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both men urged Congress to repeal the ban.

“It is my personal and professional belief that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” Mullen said. “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

In his testimony, Gates announced he has ordered a 45-day study on how to implement a “fairer” version of the law.

Recent polling shows a majority of Americans agree the ban is discriminatory and should be repealed.

Approximately 66,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people are currently serving in the Armed Forces, about 2.2% of all military personnel, a recent UCLA study found. The military has spent up to $500 million implementing the gay ban.

Lawmakers are unlikely to attempt passage of a stand-alone version of the bill in the Senate. Instead, they have alluded to a plan that would tuck the legislation in next year's defense authorization bill. Proponents hope the strategy will head off a Republican-led filibuster.