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'Don't ask, don't tell' is repealed by Senate; bill awaits Obama's signing

After the House voted to repeal the policy, the Senate took on the issue and also voted to lift the 17-year-old ban on gays in the military.

"I will approach this process deliberately and will make such certification only after careful consultation with the military service chiefs and our combatant commanders and when I am satisfied that those conditions have been met for all the services, commands and units," Gates said.

Close military observers say that the ease of ending the ban will vary widely among the military branches and that the Pentagon could stagger implementation of the change.

Combat Marines are especially concerned about the possibility of serving alongside openly gay colleagues, and Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine commandant, has suggested that allowing gays to serve openly in the military could result in deadly distractions. Several Republican senators cited Amos's concerns Saturday before voting against the bill.

Obama phoned wavering senators Saturday morning to ensure the bill's passage, and several aides who worked closely on the issue, including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, watched the vote later from the Senate gallery.

As the voting continued, a white-haired woman seated high in the Senate gallery pumped her fist in the air when she heard that Oregon's Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, had voted yes.

Others silently high-fived each other as the final tally was announced.

Air Force veteran Michael Almy, 40, was also watching. If troops discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" are permitted to reenlist, as the Pentagon study recommends, he said he intends to do so.

"I can't wait to be a part of it again," he said Saturday.

Staff writers Felicia Sonmez and Paul Kane and polling director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.

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