Washington: The US military on Tuesday formally lifted a ban on gays openly serving in the armed services, ending an 18-year-old practice that had resulted in dismissal of some 14,000 service members.
   
"We are prepared for repeal," Pentagon spokesman Georg Little told reporters on the issue which has witnessed years of court battles and political debate.
   
The 1993 law had banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the US military.
   
"No one should be left with the impression that we are unprepared. We are prepared for repeal. The force is well aware that this is coming. They've had the training. It's been in the press for months. The September 20th day is not a mystery," Little said.
   
"This is something that has been known for a long time. We've gone through a process to certify repeal," he said.    

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to address a joint press conference on the issue.
   
While applicants are not asked, or required to, reveal their sexual orientation, statements about sexual orientation will not be a bar to military service or admission to service academies, or any other accession programme, Little said.
   
"Openly gay or lesbian applicants will be evaluated according to the same criteria and requirements applicable to all others seeking entry into the military," he said.
   
The spokesman said 2.3 million service members have been trained on the repeal of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.    

"The services provided commanders and experts in the field with the training tools to educate the force on what is expected in a post-repeal environment. The training focused on the changes in policy affected by the repeal of DADT, and on expectations that service members will continue to treat each other with dignity and respect," he said.
   
Meanwhile, reports said gay rights groups have planned celebration events across the country and in overseas military communities to mark the repeal date. One of them being at the Stonewall Inn in New York, which is the site of the 1969 riots viewed by many as the start of the gay rights movement.
   
"Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian," US President Barack Obama had said on July 22, when he announced that he has certified that the armed forces are ready for its repeal.
   
"As commander in chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness," Obama had said.

(Agencies)