President Obama acknowledged the end of the military's ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. armed forces Tuesday, saying that the nation has taken "another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation's founding ideals."
"Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform," Obama said in a statement.
Congress voted in December to rescind the "don't ask, don't tell" law, which the president quickly signed. But the ban was not lifted until top Pentagon officials and the president could certify that the change would not adversely affect the military.
Leaders signed off on that certification in July, starting the clock on a 60-day waiting period that ended Monday night.
A Department of Defense memo Tuesday states that effective today, "statements about sexual orientation or lawful acts of homosexual conduct will not be considered as a bar to military service or admission to Service academies, ROTC or any other accession program." Still, "it remains the policy of the Department of Defense that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter."
Service members who were discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy are now eligible to reapply to serve in the military.
"Our Armed Forces will be stronger because now our military commanders and our nation can be sure we will have the best and brightest service members on the job, regardless of ethnicity, creed, or sexual orientation," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.