Image: Robert Gates
Win McNamee  /  Getty Images file
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visits troops in Afghanistan Dec. 7.
NBC News and news services
updated 12/18/2010 7:21:56 PM ET 2010-12-19T00:21:56

"Don't ask, don't tell" will remain military policy awhile longer despite a historic Senate vote on Saturday to overturn it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday he welcomed final congressional passage of the Pentagon policy's repeal but it will take time to implement.

"Once this legislation is signed into law by the president, the Department of Defense will immediately proceed with the planning necessary to carry out this change carefully and methodically, but purposefully," Gates said in a statement obtained by NBC News.

Leading the effort will be Dr. Clifford Stanley, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and a retired Marine Corps major general and infantry officer, Gates said.

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The legislation says the president and his top military advisers must certify that lifting the ban won't hurt troops' fighting ability.

New policies and regulations must be "consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces," Gates said.

After certification, there's a 60-day waiting period for the military.

"As I have stated before, I will approach this process deliberately and will make such certification only after careful consultation with the military service chiefs and our combatant commanders and when I am satisfied that those conditions have been met for all the Services, commands and units," Gates said.

Meanwhile, he told troops, current law and policy will remain in effect.

"Successful implementation will depend upon strong leadership, a clear message and proactive education throughout the force," he said.

Under the expected procedure, the Defense Department will conduct servicewide training and education for all active duty, reserve and national guard forces, and make whatever adjustments in procedures and facilities are necessary, NBC News said.

A servicewide memo will be sent instructing any gay or lesbian servicemembers not to openly declare their sexual orientation because they could potentially be subject to separation from the military, NBC News said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Landmark vote overturns ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

  1. Closed captioning of: Landmark vote overturns ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

    >>> on capitol hill today appears to signal a new era in gay rights in this country while abolishing long-held military tradition and policy. the senate late today voted to repeal the don't ask, don't tell policy against gays serving openly in the military. meaning for the first time, gays would be able to acknowledge their orientation without fear of being kicked out of the service. the bill now goes to the desk of president obama , who earlier today expressed his eagerness to fulfill a campaign pledge to overturn the 17-year-old ban. we have correspondents covering the vote and reaction and we start on capitol hill with kelly o'donnell. kelly ?

    >> reporter: good evening, lester. this repeal was presumed dead so many times, even last week it seemed undoable. but today, everything changed. there was drama, surprise, and a sense of history on all sides. a day of change that began with deep convictions.

    >> if you care about national security , if you care about our military readiness, then you will repeal this corrosive policy.

    >> does anybody look at those graves and say move this one, because we just found out that soldier died in battle was gay.

    >> reporter: and strong feelings among republicans.

    >> the army, the air force , particularly the marine corps have cautioned us not to do this now this way.

    >> reporter: john mccain led opposition to ending the ban, saying that it would be a dangerous distraction during two wars.

    >> and there will be high fives all over the liberal bastions of america. we'll see the talk shows tomorrow, bunch of people talking about how great it is. most of them never have served in the military.

    >> reporter: the 17-year-old policy known as don't ask don't tell forbids gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. about 14,000 men and women have been expelled.

    >> no one should be turned away because of who they are.

    >> reporter: with momentum to change the law, fueled by public opinion and support from top military brass, the political will shifted after many past failed votes, today, one final shot.

    >> the yeas are 65. the nays, 31.

    >> reporter: for supporters, relief, victory and a surprise. eight republicans, more than expected, joined democrats to end don't ask, don't tell. main republican susan collins led the fight for repeal and won more gop support.

    >> 17 years ago, it was a democratic president who signed into law don't ask, don't tell. so i think our society is changing.

    >> reporter: a thrilled senator joe lieberman called it the best day in his senate career.

    >> we're still able to come together in a bipartisan way to right a wrong and do something that's in the best interests of our country.

    >> reporter: there is still one more step that could take several months for this to really be done. this law today says that the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs must certify that the military has taken all the steps internally to be ready to implement this change. lester?

    >> kelly o'donnell, thanks. tonight, defense

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