Defense Secretary Robert Gates will outline changes in how the military enforces “don't ask, don't tell” Thursday.

The AP is reporting that two defense officials have verified that Gates will unveil new guidelines that would tighten rules on the policy that prescribes discharge for gay troops who do not remain celibate or closeted.

Under the new guidelines only a general or admiral could approve the firing of enlisted personnel who violate the ban and third party testimony would be required to be made under oath.

Gates first floated the idea of softening the military's implementation of the ban last June, a day after President Obama reaffirmed his pledge to repeal the law

Speaking aboard a military plane on its way to Germany, Gates told reporters that the Pentagon was looking into ways to make its ban “more humane.”

Testifying before Congress in February, Gates reiterated the need to alter implementation of the policy while lawmakers consider repeal.

“We believe that we have a degree of latitude within the existing law to change our internal procedures in a manner that is more appropriate and fair to our men and women in uniform,” he said.

Softening the policy is expected to give Obama political cover should Congress fail to repeal the law.

Both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation to repeal the law. However, lawmakers have already suggested they won't press for a vote on a stand-alone bill, opting instead to tuck the legislation inside a must-pass fiscal year 2011 defense reauthorization bill in the fall.

But even that plan has come into question. Last week, openly gay Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank said the Obama administration remains “ambiguous” about whether it backs repeal of the policy this year. Frank said the uncertainty “has allowed some to interpret Secretary Gates' argument for a delay in implementation as a delay in adopting the legislation.”

Frank was referring to Gates' call for a year-long study on how best to implement changes should Congress repeal the law.