US soldiers serving in Baghdad, Iraq (file photo)
US soldiers serving in Baghdad, Iraq (file photo)

Critics of the controversial U.S. military policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are celebrating its repeal.

The Senate voted 65 to 31 on Saturday to repeal the policy, after the House of Representatives did the same earlier in the week. The policy compelled homosexuals serving in the U.S. military to keep their sexuality a secret, or face discharge.

President Barack Obama said Saturday that the law will strengthen national security while upholding the basic equality on which the nation was founded. He is expected to sign it into law later this week.

About 14,000 members of the military have been discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" since it was introduced in 1993.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also welcomed passage of the bill, but he said the new policy will not take effect immediately. Gates said military leaders first will have to certify that the new policy and regulations are consistent with standards of military readiness and effectiveness.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said passing the repeal was the right thing to do. Mullen said able men and women who want to serve their country will no longer have to sacrifice their integrity to do so.

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain led opposition to the bill.  Before the final vote, McCain predicted it would do great damage to the military.

A recent study found nearly 60 percent of those in the Marine Corps and in Army combat units said repealing the ban would damage their effectiveness. But the survey also found that 70 percent of the tens of thousands of troops and military spouses surveyed believe lifting the ban on gays would not hurt the military.