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Pentagon: Lifting gay ban to take time

Image: Robert Gates
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visits troops in Afghanistan Dec. 7.Win McNamee / Getty Images file
/ Source: NBC News and news services

"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.

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.