[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/27/art.afghan.gi.afp.jpg caption= "'Don't ask, don't tell' debate heats up; Obama mention expected ."]
Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama will ask Congress during his State of the Union address to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that bars gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the military, a senior administration official told CNN.
"He will do that straight out, and has been under more pressure from gay and lesbian Americans and others who don't support that policy to be more aggressive," Obama advisor David Axelrod told CNN. "He will ask the Congress to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell.'"
Earlier, the expectation that Obama would discuss the controversial policy had heavy-hitters on both sides of the issue lining up for a fight.
Full coverage: President Obama's State of the Union address
In a message to Pentagon leadership, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili said it's time to repeal the law.
"As a nation built on the principal of equality, we should recognize and welcome change that will build a stronger more cohesive military," said Shalikashvili. His letter was sent out Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, who supports repealing the policy.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, flatly disagreed with the idea of ending it.
"When it comes to 'don't ask don't tell,' frankly, I think it's worked very well. And we just ought to leave it alone," he said to reporters Wednesday morning.
The policy prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the U.S. armed forces. The policy bans military recruiters or authorities from asking about an individual's sexual orientation, but also prohibits a service member from revealing that he or she is gay.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who told reporters on Monday that the president would discuss the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in his speech, supports ending the practice, but wants to go about it carefully. Levin said he did not have any details about what the President would say.
"If we do this in a way which isn't sensitive … we could have exactly the opposite effect of what I hope will be the case - which is to change the policy," he said Monday.
Levin said the committee plans to hold hearings on the issue in early February although the hearing may be with outside experts - delaying a hearing with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, that had originally been promised, CNN was told by a congressional source.
Obama campaigned on the promise that he would repeal the law in his first year of office. Speaking to the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, in October, Obama admitted that "our progress may be taking longer than we like," but he insisted his administration was still on track to overturn the policy.
"Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach," he said.
Spokesman Geoff Morrell deflected repeated questions about the policy at Wednesday's Pentagon briefing, directing reporters to take their questions to the White House.
"We continue to work on this problem," said Morrell. "But I'm not going to get into it with more specificity than that."
Updated: 6:03 p.m.