On Friday, President Obama joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen in formally signing a document certifying that military readiness would not be hurt by allowing gays in the military. The notice will now be sent to Congress.

The action officially repeals the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy enacted during the Clinton Administration and begins the 60-day waiting period that will lead to a full lift of the ban.

“Today’s action follows extensive training of our military personnel and certification by Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mullen that our military is ready for repeal. As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country,” Obama said in a statement.

Once the repeal is final, service members can no longer be discharged for openly acknowledging they are gay and those who have been discharged under the previous ban may apply to re-enter the military. Service members may also name same-sex partners as insurance beneficiaries, but will not get the same housing and some other benefits as married couples.

[Associated Press]