President Obama on Friday signed a certification of Congress' repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy banning gay men and women from serving openly in the military, setting the stage for the Clinton-era policy to be formally abolished on September 20, 2011.
Obama hailed the "final major step toward ending the discriminatory" policy in a statement, saying "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" effectively "undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality."
The policy will not be formally abolished until September 20 because the legislation passed by Congress late last year requires a 60-day waiting period between the certification by Mr. Obama and military leaders and full repeal.
Both Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen also certified that the military was prepared for repeal to be implemented. The certification follows a review period in which the military engaged in training and regulatory review and assessed the impact of implementation on readiness.
In his statement, the president commended civilian and military leadership "for moving forward in the careful and deliberate manner that this change requires, especially with our nation at war."
"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. "... As of September 20, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country. Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian."
Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement that "our entire country benefits when fairness prevails, when service members no longer have to fear being targeted by their own government."
The military cannot currently investigate or discharge a service member under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy because of a court injunction, though it is technically allowed to deny enlistment to openly gay men and women until the policy is fully repealed.
With repeal imminent, advocates for gay men and women in the military will now turn to issues like spousal benefits. The Defense of Marriage Act, which the Obama administration opposes, currently bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
"I want to thank all our men and women in uniform, including those who are gay or lesbian, for their professionalism and patriotism during this transition," Obama said in his statement. "Every American can be proud that our extraordinary troops and their families, like earlier generations that have adapted to other changes, will only grow stronger and remain the best fighting force in the world and a reflection of the values of justice and equality that the define us as Americans."