WASHINGTON – Gay men and lesbians will be able to serve openly in the U.S. military in 60 days after President Barack Obama formally certified on Friday that the controversial 17-year policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” was ready for repeal.
Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed a certification to Congress that lifting the ban won’t jeopardize the military’s combat readiness and that after months of training, the armed forces are ready to accept the change.
“As commander in chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness,” Obama said in a statement.
“As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country.”
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The repeal – which was expected after Congress passed a law in December – fulfills an Obama campaign pledge and also ends a policy that opponents have long described as discriminatory. But while gay rights groups that fought for nearly two decades to overturn the policy hailed the Pentagon’s certification as a milestone, they cautioned that there are still barriers to gays and lesbians in the military.
“No one should underestimate the historic significance of repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” said Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and the executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.