WASHINGTON (RNN) - President Barack Obama has certified the repeal of the law commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), according to sources.
With Friday's signature, gay men and women will now be able to serve openly in the U.S. military beginning in late September.
"The final countdown to repeal begins today," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), in a press release. "Service members celebrate this historic announcement, and they are ready for this change."
While repeal was approved by Congress on Dec. 18, 2010, it does not have the force of law until 60 days after it is certified by the president, secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The White House received certification from the Pentagon on the repeal Thursday, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) said to the Raycom News Network.
News that newly sworn-in Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta would certify the law was confirmed Thursday by the nation's top media outlets.
Many advocates, including Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, had expected repeal to be certified before Robert Gates, a leading repeal advocate, left his post as secretary in June.
Although repeal is now unavoidable, SLDN urged troops to act cautiously.
"I think service members are celebratory about this coming certification," said Zeke Stokes, director of communication at SLDN, in a telephone interview. "But at SLDN, we urge service members to remain cautious, because the 60-day clock remains."
The Pentagon has, in fact, discharged several troops despite Congress' approval of the repeal of DADT.
"Until repeal occurs, the law commonly known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' remains in effect, and the Department of Defense will continue to apply the law as it is obligated to do so," said Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense.
A new policy instituted on Oct. 21, 2010, however, has made it more difficult for discharges to occur. The policy states that all discharges under DADT must be approved by several ranks of the military, including the secretary of the branch of service in which the accused serves and Defense Department's lawyers.
Even after the 60-day mark passes, the battle is far from over for SLDN and other gay rights advocates.
"At SLDN, we will be advocating for effective implementation of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal," said Zeke.
Zeke said his organization also will push President Barack Obama to sign an executive order that prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, a move that would grant gay service members a resource outside of their chain of command.
"Signing legislation that allows for repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was necessary, but it is not sufficient for ensuring equality in the military," said Sarvis. "It's critical that gay and lesbian service members have the same avenues for recourse as their straight counterparts when it comes to harassment and discrimination."
SLDN will also push the federal government for an equality of benefits for legally married, same-sex service members in addition to providing its core legal services, Zeke said. Housing and healthcare benefits for partners are two things currently denied to gay service members.
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