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Panetta to end ban on gays in the military

WASHINGTON -- Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has decided to end the ban on gays serving openly in the armed services and certify that repealing the 17-year-old prohibition will not hurt the military's ability to fight, officials said yesterday.

His decision, which was expected, comes two weeks after the chiefs of the military services told Panetta that ending the ban would not affect military readiness. Dismantling the ban fulfills a 2008 campaign promise by President Barack Obama, who helped usher the repeal through Congress and signed it into law late last December.

But the move also drew vehement opposition from some in Congress and initial reluctance from military leaders, who worried that it could cause a backlash and erode troop cohesion on the battlefield.

Defense officials said the announcement will be made Friday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been made public.

President Barack Obama is also expected to certify the change. Repeal of the ban would become effective 60 days after certification, which could open the military to gays by the end of September. The law setting the stage for repeal required the defense secretary to certify to Congress that lifting the ban would not harm military readiness.

The military services have conducted extensive internal studies and about five months of training to gauge how troops would react to the change. A survey of U.S. troops last year found that some two-thirds didn't care if the ban is lifted. Opposition to the repeal was strongest among combat troops, particularly Marines.

But as training has gone on this year, senior military leaders have said they've seen no real problems.

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