With the stroke of several pens, President Obama signed the repeal Wednesday of the longstanding policy banning gays from serving openly in the military, capping off a yearlong legislative battle that just weeks ago seemed in danger of collapsing.

Obama said he was “overwhelmed” before putting his name to the law rescinding the 1993 policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He said the decision would ultimately strengthen national security, downplaying the controversy that for years kept the policy stuck in neutral and predicting future generations would look back at the reversal and wonder what the fuss was about.

“No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced to leave the military … because they happen to be gay. No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country that they love,” Obama said.

“Our people sacrificed a lot for their country, including their lives,” he said. “None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity as well.”

In signing the bill, the president was fulfilling a pivotal campaign promise which for the better part of his first two years seemed sidelined, as Congress debated massive legislative packages over health care and financial regulation and taxes

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