WASHINGTON (AP) - While President Barack Obama this week is expected to clear the way for gays to serve openly in the military, the new law won't go into effect immediately and unanswered questions remain: How soon will the new policy be implemented, will it be accepted by the troops and could it hamper the military in Afghanistan and Iraq?
The historic action by Congress repeals the requirement, known as "don't ask, don't tell," that for the last 17 years has allowed gays and lesbians to serve, but only if they kept quiet about their sexual orientation. Ending that policy has been compared in its social implications to President Harry S Truman's 1948 executive order that brought racial equality to the military.
After Obama signs the legislation - passed by the Senate on Saturday - into law, the Pentagon must still certify to Congress that the change won't damage combat readiness.
So, for the time being the restrictions will remain on the books, though it's unclear how fully they will be enforced. Some people believe gay discharge cases will be dropped as soon as Obama signs the law. Military leaders, who have been divided on the issue, gave indications that the policy change will be aggressively pursued.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, who had argued against the policy change, said in a statement Sunday the Corps "will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy" and that he would "personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines."
The issue of gays in the military has been a contentious one for decades. Until 1993, all recruits had to state on a questionnaire whether they were homosexual; if they said "yes," they could not join. More than 13,500 service members were dismissed under the law.
Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who commanded a brigade in Iraq, said he believes the military - from top commanders to foot soldiers - will accept their new orders.
"Pretty much all the heated discussion is over and now it's a matter of the more mundane aspects of implementing the law," said Mansoor, a professor of military history at Ohio State University.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has supported the change but has stressed a go-slow approach, said "successful implementation (of the new policy) will depend upon strong leadership, a clear message and proactive education throughout the force."