WASHINGTON — The military says it is ready for the lifting Tuesday of a ban on gays serving openly, while supporters of repeal applaud the historic change as a victory for equal rights.
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Pentagon press secretary George Little said Monday that the military is adequately prepared for the end of the current policy, commonly known as "don't ask, don't tell," under which gays can serve as long as they don't openly acknowledge their sexual orientation and commanders are not allowed to ask.
"No one should be left with the impression that we are unprepared. We are prepared for repeal," Little said.
Last week, the Pentagon said 97 percent of the military has undergone training in the new law. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and President Barack Obama have all certified that allowing openly gay service members will not undermine the effectiveness of the military or its recruiting.
The repeal took effect at 12:01 a.m. EDT Tuesday. For weeks the military services have been accepting applications from openly gay recruits, while waiting for repeal to take effect before processing the applications.Timeline: Timeline of 'don't ask, don't tell' (on this page)
The Defense Department will publish revised regulations to reflect the new law that will allow gays to serve openly. The revisions, such as eliminating references to banned homosexual service, are in line with policy guidance that was issued by top Pentagon officials in January, after Obama signed the legislation that did away with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The lifting of the 18-year-old ban also will mean a halt to all pending investigations, discharges and other administrative proceedings that were begun under the Clinton-era law.
Public displays of affection
Existing standards of personal conduct, such as those pertaining to public displays of affection, will continue regardless of sexual orientation.
There also will be no immediate changes to eligibility standards for military benefits. All service members already are entitled to certain benefits and entitlements, such as designating a partner as one's life insurance beneficiary or as designated caregiver in the Wounded Warrior program.
Gay marriage is one of the thornier issues. An initial move by the Navy earlier this year to train chaplains about same-sex civil unions in states where they are legal was shelved after more than five dozen lawmakers objected. The Pentagon is reviewing the issue.
Service members who were discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" law will be allowed to re-enlist, but their applications will not be given priority over those of any others with prior military experience who are seeking to re-enlist.
Some in Congress remain opposed to repeal, arguing that it may undermine order and discipline.
A leading advocate, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Monday the repeal is overdue.
"Our nation will finally close the door on a fundamental unfairness for gays and lesbians, and indeed affirm equality for all Americans," the California Democrat said.
Little said Panetta would discuss the matter at a Pentagon news conference on Tuesday. The Pentagon otherwise was taking a low-key approach to the historic day.
'New era of military service'
Gay rights groups, however, were preparing a series of celebrations.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said repeal supporters would hold "Repeal Day" celebrations across the country Tuesday.
"Through these events taking place in every state across the country, we will pay tribute to their service and sacrifice as we look forward to this new era of military service — an era that honors the contributions of all qualified Americans who have served and wish to serve," said Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director of the advocacy group.
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.
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