According to a new poll, 77 percent of Americans back letting gays and lesbians who have publicly expressed their sexuality serve in the military.

It's the highest level support in the history of the poll.

Respondents were asked, "Do you think [homosexuals/gays and lesbians] who DO publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military or not?" Each of the terms, "homosexuals" and "gays and lesbians," were used in half of the questions.

Support for ending the military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell policy" was high among all groups polled in the Washington Post-ABC News survey. Of the Democrats asked, 86 percent said that gays should be allowed to serve. A majority of Republicans, 74 percent, also expressed support.

The survey is just the latest in a trend of polls that show more and more Americans support ending the gay ban. In 1993, only 44 percent backed letting openly gay and lesbian service members serve. By 2001, that number had increased to 62 percent.

The poll also found that 83 percent of Americans thought that gays and lesbians who do not publicly disclose their sexuality should be allowed to serve.

Last week, the Senate failed to get the 60 votes needed to move forward with the National Defense Authorization Act which would have repealed "don't ask, don't tell."

President Barack Obama expressed disappointment over the defeat. "A minority of Senators were willing to block this important legislation largely because they oppose the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" he said.

"As Commander in Chief, I have pledged to repeal this discriminatory law, a step supported by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and informed by a comprehensive study that shows overwhelming majorities of our armed forces are prepared to serve with Americans who are openly gay or lesbian."

After the failed vote, Sens. Lieberman (I-CT) and Collins (R-ME) introduced a separate bill to repeal the policy. Two other key Republican senators, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, were supportive of repeal but have chosen not to cosponsor the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to use his power as majority leader to send the bill straight to the full Senate for a vote. Aides suggested that the vote could happen Wednesday or Thursday.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said the House will take up a similar bill Wednesday. The House bill was introduced by Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA).

"This discriminatory and harmful policy has weakened America's security by depriving us of the work of tens of thousands of gay and lesbian troops who have served their country honorably," Hoyer said in a statement. "And it has severely compromised our Armed Forces' core value of integrity."