NBC: Panetta to OK end of military's gay ban

/ Source: NBC News and news services

The Pentagon will announce Friday that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs have certified that the military is ready to end "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the policy preventing gays from openly serving, senior defense officials tell NBC News.

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.

The next step is for President Barack Obama to certify the repeal, which then begins a 60-day waiting period to implement the repeal — before "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is officially a thing of the past.

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.

The Pentagon has been in the process of writing rules for the new policy, and Friday's announcement will clear another hurdle toward repeal.

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.