President signs repeal of 'Don't ask' in big win for gay-rights advocates

President Obama signed legislation on Wednesday to do away with the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian members, following through on a key campaign promise to the LGBT community. 

Obama hailed the new law he approved to do away with the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, the 1993 standard set by President Clinton on gays in the military.

"This morning, I am proud to sign a law that will bring an end to 'Don't ask, don't tell,'" Obama said at a signing ceremony marking the end of the policy. "This law I'm about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend."

The legislation would allow gay and lesbian members of the military to serve openly for the first time in history, pending the certification by the president and military leaders.

Obama told several stories to mark the import of the occasion while heaping praise on the lawmakers who helped shepherd the repeal through the lame-duck Congress. He encouraged gay men and lesbians who were discharged under the policy to reenlist in the military.

Onstage participants in the ceremony included Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and other activists.

Those activists gave a rousing ovation to the political leaders and Obama for having finally secured elimination of the policy.

The signing ceremony marked a moment of major political delivery by Obama to his gay and lesbian supporters. The long delay in passing the legislation had angered some gay rights advocates, as had the administration's pro-forma defense of the policy in court challenges.

Prior to the repeal of "Don't ask," the administration's biggest accomplishment on gay and lesbian issues had been to allow for the extension of benefits to federal employees in same-sex partnerships.

Obama marked the occasion with a poignant speech to an audience at the Interior Department. The president lamented that the heroism of closeted gay members of the military would not ever be known to history, but encouraged current closeted members of the military to make the most of their new rights.

Moving forward, the president said service chiefs are "committed to implementing this change swiftly and efficiently," Hoyer said Wednesday. He added he thought it would only be a matter of months until the repeal is fully enacted.

The certification would likely take "a few months, and not much more than that," Hoyer, a major House proponent of the legislation, said Wednesday morning in a radio interview.