WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The Senate voted 65-31 Saturday to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays in the U.S. military from being open about their sexual orientation.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama "looks forward to signing this bill into law."
The president said in a statement the Senate was "ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend."
"By ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay," Obama said. "And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.
"As commander-in-chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known."
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was "pleased" by the congressional action.
"Handling this through legislation preserves the military's prerogative to implement change in a responsible, deliberate manner," Mullen said. "More critically, it is the right thing to do. No longer will able men and women who want to serve and sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so. We will be a better military as a result."
He said he looks forward to working with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the service chiefs in preparing and certifying the joint force to implement the new law.
Gates said he welcomes the new law.
"Once this legislation is signed into law by the president, the Department of Defense will immediately proceed with the planning necessary to carry out this change carefully and methodically, but purposefully," Gates said in a statement.
"As I have stated before, 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.
"It is therefore important that our men and women in uniform understand that while today's historic vote means that this policy will change, the implementation and certification process will take an additional period of time. In the meantime, the current law and policy will remain in effect."
The vote to repeal the law passed in 1994 came quickly after an early 63-33 bill to end debate on the repeal bill, The New York Times reported. A few Republicans joined Democrats in both votes.
The House had approved repeal 250 to 175 on Wednesday. Putting the new policy into effect will take at least 60 days once Obama signs the bill.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., came in for the vote even though he is scheduled for prostate cancer surgery Monday.
"I don't care who you love," Wyden said. "If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn't have to hide who you are."
The policy has been contentious since President Bill Clinton adopted it. Pressure increased this year when a federal judge in California, ruling in favor of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, found it unconstitutional.
The Republicans who supported the vote to end debate were Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; George Voinovich, R-Ohio; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both R-Maine, talkingpointsmemo.com reported.
Sen. Jim Imhofe, R-Okla., who opposed the bill, said the "don't ask" policy works
"In the middle of a military conflict, is not the time to do it," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said.