Vice President Joe Biden administers the oath of office to Defense Secretary… (Larry Downing / Reuters )
President Obama signed a certification order Friday clearing the way for gays to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces this fall.
Congress voted last December to rescind the "don't ask, don't tell" law, but delayed ending the ban until top Pentagon officials and the president could certify that the change would not adversely affect the military.
In a statement, Obama said that today's action comes after "extensive training of our military personnel" and the certification from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen "that our military is ready for repeal."
"I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness," he said. "Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian."
Panetta and Mullen signed off on certification Thursday.
"Thanks to the professionalism and leadership of the U.S. military, we are closer to achieving the goal that is at the foundation of America -- equality and dignity for all," Panetta, who was ceremonially sworn in as the Defense secretary Friday, said in a statement.
The certification begins a 60-day waiting period before the ban is officially lifted. The "don't ask, don't tell" law, enacted in 1993, will end Sept. 20.
Since the congressional vote to repeal the law, the military services have been training personnel on how to conduct themselves once the ban is lifted. Numerous senior officials said the training had proceeded without problems.
The issue remains controversial, however. This month, opponents in the House sought to use a defense spending bill to impede the repeal process.
Earlier this week, the Obama administration threw its support behind another top priority of gay rights advocates: repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.