Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is calling on President Barrack Obama to take action on “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” repeal this year. The 1993 law prescribes discharge as the remedy for gay troops who do not remain celibate or closeted.

“Americans clearly understand that if someone is brave enough to take a bullet for the USA, then they should have the same equal rights guaranteed to every American under the law – whether they are serving in the military, or when they come home,” Dean wrote in an open letter to the president.

In the letter, released Saturday, Dean says he is in agreement with gay rights advocates who are concerned that the Department of Defense could “indefinitely delay the possibility of moving forward with the repeal of DADT until the Pentagon completes a review of the policy.”

Obama promised he would back repeal of the policy this year during his first State of the Union address in January. The president has since reversed course, saying he supports holding off on repeal until after the Pentagon study is complete. The study is due in December.

“While I understand the need to research how repealing DADT will affect members of the military, the law can still be repealed with an implementation timeline this year,” Dean said.

Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen wrote to the House Armed Services Committee and urged its chairman, Missouri Representative Ike Skelton, to hold off on repeal until their study is complete.

“Our military must be afforded the opportunity to inform us of their concerns, insights and suggestions if we are to carry out this change successfully,” Gates and Mullen wrote.

The letter was a response to a request from Skelton, who does not support repeal of the gay ban.

Gay groups have accused the president of punting repeal until 2013.

“The White House knows that the political environment will become more challenging over time,” Dr. Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a group that supports repeal, and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said. “If repeal doesn't happen this calendar year, it is unlikely to pass until after the next presidential election.”

“The time to end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is now,” Dean writes. “I urge you to take immediate action to insure that Congress includes the repeal of DADT – with an implementation timeline – in the Defense Authorization bill currently under consideration.”

The defense budget has long been considered the best bet for repeal language, but the window to act is closing quickly. Markups for the 2011 defense authorization bill on both sides of Congress are expected to take place within the next 3 weeks. A House vote may come as early as May 24.

Passage of repeal in the Senate – even when tucked inside the defense budget – remains a daunting task during an election year. Repeal advocates worry that without the president's support they'll fall short.

In addition to writing to the president, Dean also participated in a “Don't Ask” rally last Sunday where 6 activists were arrested after they handcuffed themselves to the White House gate.