WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced Friday that the military had made all necessary preparations to allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces, setting the stage for the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 60 days.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented President Barack Obama with a formal certification Friday at the White House that the military's ability to fight and recruit would not be harmed by the overt presence of gays in the ranks.
The certification marked the final hurdle in a nearly two-decade campaign by gay rights groups and civil rights advocates to integrate the armed forces. Under a law passed by Congress and signed by Obama in December, the 18-year-old "don't-ask, don't-tell" policy will now automatically vanish in 60 days.
The policy, which allowed gays to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret, was enacted in 1993 as a compromise measure by Congress after President Bill Clinton failed to persuade lawmakers to lift a ban on gays in the military.
Starting in September, gay and lesbian personnel will be able to reveal their sexual identity without fear of dismissal.