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Pelosi leads celebration of 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal

By the CNN Wire Staff
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal Tuesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal Tuesday.
  • NEW: Rep. Murphy tells about a gay soldier's email to him
  • President Obama will sign the repeal bill Wednesday
  • House Speaker Pelosi calls it a "joyful day"
  • Pelosi leads a celebrating crowd in singing "God Bless America"

Washington (CNN) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday led jubilant legislators and soldiers discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in singing "God Bless America" to celebrate the upcoming repeal of the controversial law.

President Barack Obama will sign the repeal bill on Wednesday, and Pelosi did her part at the ceremony attended by hundreds of supporters of the repeal by signing the measure passed by Congress to send it to the White House.

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy enacted in 1993 banned openly gay and lesbian soldiers from military service. More than 14,000 military members have been discharged because of it.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, said the military will be made stronger by including all Americans who want to serve without making gay and lesbian members lie about who they are.

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"Isn't this a joyful day?" she said, adding that the repeal measure will "change the law, improve the policy, make life better for many Americans, and make our country stronger."

Pelosi then asked all in attendance to sing "God Bless America." At the end, Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, one of the first openly gay House members, could be seen wiping his eyes.

Earlier, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania told the gathering of an e-mail he received from a company commander in Afghanistan, who mentioned how he often had to counsel soldiers who received divorce papers or "Dear John" letters from spouses or opposite-sex partners.

Murphy continued: "This young company commander, this captain, on his fourth deployment, wrote in that e-mail saying, 'I never thought I'd see the day when I got one of those letters myself. And I'm sitting here at three o'clock in the morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, and I have no where to go because I happen to be gay, and I can't walk to the chaplain, and I can't go to a battle buddy, and I can't walk to my commander's office, so I'm sitting here cradling my 9 mm pistol thinking about blowing my brains out. But I read this article about this Iraq war veteran named Patrick Murphy from Pennsylvania that's fighting for me, and it gives me hope.'"

The repeal bill, a campaign promise by Obama, won Senate approval on Saturday in the final days of the lame-duck session.

The House passed it twice -- first as part of a broader defense bill that was blocked by Senate Republicans, and then in the separate measure passed by the Senate.

Conservative Republicans opposed the repeal, saying it would put too much stress on a military fighting two wars.

However, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen both called for a congressional repeal with a set phase-in timetable, warning that "don't ask, don't tell" could otherwise be abruptly overturned by the courts.

Under the repeal measure, the Pentagon will finish developing an implementation plan that rewrites policies, regulations and directives.

Once that potentially lengthy process is complete, Obama, Gates and Mullen will each have to certify that the repeal can move ahead without negatively affecting military readiness and unit cohesion.

After the certification, another 60 days will need to pass before the repeal is officially enacted.

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this story.