DADT HEARING…. The Senate Armed Services Committee, for the first time in 17 years, convened a hearing today on whether the U.S. military should allow Americans to wear a uniform, regardless of their sexual orientation. It went pretty well, though there are some lingering concerns about implementing a change in policy.

The nation’s top two Defense officials called on Tuesday for an end to the 16-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, a major step toward allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the United States military for the first time in its history.

“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,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said it was his personal belief that “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”

That quote, in and of itself, is an important milestone. The nation’s highest ranking military officer — appointed by a conservative Republican president, no less — stated his unambiguous opposition to the discriminatory and ineffective status quo. This is a first for a sitting chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Indeed, after the hearing, Adm. Mullen reiterated his position on Twitter, insisting that he “stands by” what he told the committee: “Allowing homosexuals to serve openly is the right thing to do. Comes down to integrity.”

But the way forward is not quite as clear-cut as some of us would prefer. Ideally, DADT repeal would be added to the Defense budget, it would be approved by both chambers, and the policy would be no more.

Alas, implementation will apparently be more complicated. The Pentagon is creating a review panel on changing the policy, which “could take up to a year.” It’s not altogether clear how this would unfold, but ideally, Congress would change the law with the budget, and the new, more sensible policy would begin in January.

In the meantime, Gates also said this morning that the Defense Department intends to enforce the status quo “in a fairer manner” until the repeal is complete, suggesting that the Pentagon will likely be disinclined to discharge servicemen and women who are “outed” by third parties or jilted partners. The secretary said he believes the Pentagon has “a degree of latitude within the existing law to change our internal procedures.”

All things considered, the steps forward seem to be moving in the right direction.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.