Officials Certify Repeal Of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen and President Obama certified the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's a crucial step that will lead to the end of the law that barred homosexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military. Michele Norris talks to NPR's Rachel Martin, who has the latest from the Pentagon.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The military's 18-year-old ban on gays serving openly in the military is one big step closer to being taken off the books. Today, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of Joints Chief Admiral Mike Mullen and President Obama all signed the certification to repeal don't ask, don't tell. NPR's Rachel Martin joins me now from the Pentagon. Rachel, explain exactly what was certified today.

RACHEL MARTIN: Well, Michele, remember back in December of this past year, President Obama signed a bill that authorized the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, but that bill permitting repeal hinged on a couple of things. First, the Pentagon wanted to make sure it could prepare the entire U.S. military for this policy change. And they've been spending the last several months doing sensitivity trainings for service members around the world.

Second, all of the military service chiefs had to sign off on this, promising the repeal would not affect military readiness or unit cohesion, and that happened a couple of weeks ago.

NORRIS: Rachel, help us understand what happens now. If you're a gay soldier, can you come out of the closet tomorrow without getting discharged?

MARTIN: Well, technically, the ban is still on the books. But now that the president has signed the final certification, that triggers a 60-day waiting period. So, 60 days from now - September 20 the ban is over; but the Pentagon has been facing some legal challenges over the constitutionality of don't ask, don't tell - so, military leaders have pretty much stopped enforcing the ban.

Michele, from the beginning, top leaders from the Pentagon have said that repeal would be slow but it would be a deliberate process. Been too slow, according to some gay rights advocates but those same groups today are hailing this as a victory.

NORRIS: Rachel, thank you very much.

MARTIN: You're very welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Rachel Martin at the Pentagon.

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