President Barack Obama formally certified Friday the end of the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military. Obama said the policy change, which will go into effect in September, means the armed forces no longer will be deprived of the talents and skills of gay Americans.
Formal certification followed the decision by the new U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to end the policy begun under the administration of former Democratic President Bill Clinton.
The path to final presidential certification was set two weeks ago when U.S. military chiefs provided their opinions that ending the ban would not affect the readiness of U.S. military forces.
For the president, ending the ban was a key goal. He signed it into law last December, after the U.S. Congress gave its approval.
In a written statement, Obama said the ban "undermined military readiness and violated American principles of fairness and equality," adding that the military would no longer be "deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian."
Though he formally communicated the end of the ban to the U.S. Congress, under U.S. law there is still a 60-day waiting period before it ends once and for all, now set for September 20.
At a Pentagon news conference, Major General Steven Hummer, Chief of Staff of the Repeal Implementation Team, discussed some of the key changes under the repeal.
"Upon repeal, statements about sexual orientation will no longer be a bar to military service. Upon repeal, the services will no longer separate service members under 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.' Upon repeal, former service members solely discharged under 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' may re-apply," said Hummer.
Clifford Stanley, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, said, "It remains a policy of the Department of Defense that sexual orientations are a personal and private matter, to treat all members with dignity and respect, and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline. There will be zero tolerance for harassment, violence, or discrimination of any kind."
In a written statement, Defense Secretary Panetta said "all men and women who serve this nation in uniform - no matter their race, color, creed, religion, or sexual orientation - do so with great dignity, bravery, and dedication."
Panetta made this remark at his swearing-in ceremony earlier in the day [Friday], before the president's certification was announced.
"We must respect the dignity of every person who is willing to put their lives on the line for America. Every day they are making extraordinary sacrifices for all of us and so are their families back home," said Panetta.
Pentagon officials say a process of training military service members has been successful, with nearly 2 million members having undergone training in the new policy since last March.
In his written statement, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen said certification did not mark the end of the military's work on the policy change, adding that training will continue and the policy adjusted where and when needed.