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US Warns Troops Gay Ban Repeal Not In Effect Yet

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates answers questions from reporters on board his plane, 10 Dec 2010 (file photo)

The top U.S. defense official is warning the country's troops that a ban on openly homosexual people in the military remains in effect, even though a repeal of the policy has been signed into law.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has issued a memorandum reminding military leaders that it could take months for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to be implemented.

The document says until then, service members who alter their personal conduct "may face adverse consequences."

President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law Wednesday. The 1993 policy forced homosexual servicemen and women to keep their sexual orientation secret. Those discovered to be gay faced dismissal.

The new law requires the military to develop a plan to transition to the new policy, and for the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to certify that plan before it takes effect.

President Obama has said senior military leaders tell him they plan to implement the new rules smartly and swiftly.

Several Republicans in Congress crossed party lines to support the repeal, and Defense Secretary Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, recently spoke in favor of overturning the policy.

But those who want to keep the old rules say letting openly gay people in the military could cause problems while the United States is at war. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, is one of a number of military leaders who have said they favor keeping the ban in place.

General Amos has said allowing openly gay people to serve would be a distraction to other troops, but he says he will abide by the change.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.