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Official: Pentagon set to certify repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'

From Chris Lawrence, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
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The history of 'don't ask, don't tell'
  • NEW: A group that sought the repeal praises new Defense Secretary Panetta
  • An official says an announcement could come Friday
  • Certification means the military is ready to accept openly gay and lesbian troops
  • Full repeal would take place 60 days after certification

(CNN) -- The Pentagon is set to certify that the U.S. military is prepared to accept openly gay and lesbian service members, and doing so will not harm military readiness, a U.S. official told CNN on Thursday.

According to the official, who spoke on condition of not being identified, an announcement of that certification -- which is required to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy -- is likely to come Friday.

Under a bill passed last year that set up a process for repealing the controversial policy, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, along with President Barack Obama, have to sign a certification that confirms the military's ability to accept the integration of openly gay and lesbian troops.

Even after certification, there will be a 60-day waiting period before the repeal is fully implemented.

In a statement Thursday, one of the leading groups advocating for repeal, Servicemembers United, said it had expected Panetta to act on certification after assessing the situation since he succeeded Robert Gates as defense secretary on July 1.

"We are glad to see that just three weeks into his tenure as secretary of defense, he (Panetta) is already confident that this policy change can take place with little or no disruption to military readiness," said the Servicemembers United statement.

Repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would end a convoluted legal battle led by human rights and gay rights groups.

A gay rights group -- the Log Cabin Republicans -- had sued over the 18-year-old ban on openly gay and lesbian members serving in the U.S. armed forces.

In September U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips declared the military's ban to be unconstitutional and demanded the government immediately stop enforcing it.

U.S. officials have been moving ahead with dismantling "don't' ask, don't tell" but had objected to having the courts force the government to officially repeal it.

The case put the Obama administration in an unusual position of supporting a repeal but at the same time filing court motions to prevent it from happening faster than planned.

Last week, a federal appeals court temporarily reinstated the policy, but banned the military services from investigating or discharging anyone under the rule.

The 9th U.S. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in California issued the order late Friday after the Obama administration asked it to reconsider its recent order temporarily blocking the policy.

On Thursday, the Log Cabin Republicans filed a legal challenge to the appellate court's temporary reinstatement of the policy, arguing that the unconstitutional statute would continue to harm the rights of gay and lesbian service members until it was fully repealed.