Paul Chinn  /  AP
Retired Navy commander Zoe Dunning, center, celebrates the vote by the U.S. Senate at the LGBT Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday. The Senate agreed on Saturday to do away with the military's 17-year ban on openly gay troops and sent President Barack Obama legislation to overturn the Clinton-era policy known as "don't ask, don't tell." For Dunning, the vote ended a long struggle that included two military discharge hearings after she declared she was gay.
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updated 12/20/2010 3:24:16 PM ET 2010-12-20T20:24:16

While President Barack Obama this week is expected to clear the way for gays to serve openly in the military, the new law won't go into effect immediately and unanswered questions remain: How soon will the new policy be implemented, will it be accepted by the troops and could it hamper the military in Afghanistan and Iraq?

'Don't Ask' repeal — what next?

The historic action by Congress repeals the requirement, known as "don't ask, don't tell," that for the last 17 years has allowed gays and lesbians to serve, but only if they kept quiet about their sexual orientation. Ending that policy has been compared in its social implications to President Harry S. Truman's 1948 executive order that brought racial equality to the military.

After Obama signs the legislation — passed by the Senate on Saturday — into law, the Pentagon must still certify to Congress that the change won't damage combat readiness.

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So, for the time being the restrictions will remain on the books, though it's unclear how fully they will be enforced. Some people believe gay discharge cases will be dropped as soon as Obama signs the law. Military leaders, who have been divided on the issue, gave indications that the policy change will be aggressively pursued.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, who had argued against the policy change, said in a statement Sunday the Corps "will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy" and that he would "personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines."

Video: Landmark vote overturns ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ (on this page)

The issue of gays in the military has been a contentious one for decades. Until 1993, all recruits had to state on a questionnaire whether they were homosexual; if they said "yes," they could not join. More than 13,500 service members were dismissed under the law.

In the 17 years since the "don't ask, don't tell" policy went into effect, views toward the gays in the broader society have evolved. Gay marriage is now legal in five states and the District of Columbia. Opinion surveys say a majority of Americans think it's OK for gays to serve in uniform.

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Tina Fineberg  /  AP
Cassandra Melnikow, foreground left, and her sister Victoria Melnikow, right, sit in New York's Times Square as news of the Senate approving the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is displayed outside ABC Television's Times Square studios on Saturday.

Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who commanded a brigade in Iraq, said he believes the military — from top commanders to foot soldiers — will accept their new orders.

"Pretty much all the heated discussion is over and now it's a matter of the more mundane aspects of implementing the law," Mansoor, a professor of military history at Ohio State University, said in a telephone interview.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara said only three steps are needed to assure a smooth and quick transition: an executive order suspending all gay discharges, a few weeks to put new regulations in place, immediate certification to Congress that the new law will work. But he said the military may require months of education and training well into 2011.

Video: What follows the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell?”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has supported the change but has stressed a go-slow approach, said "successful implementation (of the new policy) will depend upon strong leadership, a clear message and proactive education throughout the force."

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A leading opponent of repealing the 1993 law, Elaine Donnelly, has called the expected certification a "sham" because it will be done by three people who already have stated their support for the change: Obama, Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

While gay rights activists say the complications and uncertainties are being overblown, others predict problems.

"The acceptance of open homosexuality and the creation and enforcement of new policies could be far more difficult to implement than repeal advocates ever envisioned," said Richard L. Eubank, a retired Marine and Vietnam combat veteran who leads the 2.1 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars.

A yearlong Pentagon study on the impact of repealing the 1993 ban said that issues of sexual conduct and fraternization can be dealt with by using existing military rules and regulations, and it found that two-thirds of service members surveyed didn't think changing the law would have much of an effect on military effectiveness. Of those who did predict negative consequences, most were in combat elements such as the infantry.

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

Video: Obama gets key victories with DADT, taxes

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama gets key victories with DADT, taxes

    >>> now to washington where president obama has put the start of his christmas vacation on hold to keep an eye on a flurry of activity on capitol hill . savannah guthrie has details on that.

    >> reporter: the president still has one big item left on his wish lift, getting that arms reduction treaty with russia ratified this week. if he can pull that off, people say he's gotten a lot more out of this lame duck congress that most expected. a one-two punch for the white house .

    >> the yays are 65, the nays 31.

    >> the yays are 277, the nays are 148, the motion is adopted.

    >> reporter: two back to back wins for president obama . getting billions of dollars in new stimulus out of the bipartisan deal extending the bush era tax rates and later this week he'll be signing the bill repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

    >> this is a growth process and an evolution.

    >> reporter: a little more than a month after democrats took what the president called a shellacking, the white house is hoping to end the year with partisan victories on the board.

    >> people look better when they're getting things done, when they're accomplishing thing.

    >> reporter: but it's republicans poised to -- this new political reality may mean disappointing fellow democrats.

    >> candidly speaking, there are some elements of this legislation that i don't like. there's some elements that members of my party don't like. that's the nature of compromise.

    >> reporter: the president has one more major battle before him this week getting the new s.t.a.r.t. arms control treaty with russia ratified by year's end, 67 votes are needed meaning a handful of republicans must go along. on sunday republican leaders said the white house is trying to jam in the treaty at the end of the year.

    >> so all of a sudden we're once again trying to rush things right here before christmas eve . i think that was not the best way to get the support of people like me.

    >> reporter: but democrats say republicans have had months to examine the treaty and they believe they have the support to get it passed.

    >> we hope the votes are there including votes of many republicans.

    >> reporter: if the president can wrap up one more bipartisan victory, he may have some analysts talking about a turn around.

    >> getting things done, that's incredibly important for this president to do.

    >> reporter: the president was supposed to have started his two-week vacation to hawaii over the weekend. he is staying back as you mentioned to deal with congress. but mrs. obama and the girls have already left. back to you.

    >> savannah guthrie at the white house this morning. savannah, thank

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