WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday certified the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the policy preventing gays from openly serving in the military.
"Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
The move came after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified that the military was ready to end the ban.
Each member of the Joint Chiefs had to submit a recommendation to Panetta, indicating that they are far enough in their training to repeal DADT, and that it will not have an impact on military readiness.
Obama's certification starts a 60-day waiting period to implement the repeal — before "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is officially a thing of the past.
"As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country," Obama said.
The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy forced gays to keep their sexual orientation secret if they wanted to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Last year, Obama signed a landmark law repealing the policy.Story: For some gay couples, fight goes on to marry — and stay in the US
Ending the policy, enacted under then-President Bill Clinton in 1993, has been a top priority of gay rights activists, along with advancing same-sex marriage rights. Since it was enacted, an estimated 13,000 people have been expelled from the armed forces for violating the rules.
Critics of repeal within the Pentagon had long argued it was too risky to pursue the change at a time when the military was stretched by the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan.
But a Pentagon study unveiled last year predicted that scrapping the policy would have little impact, and repeal won support from Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
U.S. courts also intervened, with a California district court judge last year finding that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy violated the U.S. constitution.
The Obama administration managed to keep the policy partly in effect through court appeals in order to give the Defense Department time to prepare for repeal. Last week, a federal appeals court blocked the Pentagon from investigating or discharging anyone under the policy.
Reuters contributed to this report from NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube.