The ban on openly gay and lesbian US troops ends today after nearly two decades.

The law, known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they kept their sexual orientation a secret.

It was passed in 1993 during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and was seen as a compromise on the issue.

But tens of thousands of troops were still fired, after outing themselves or being exposed by a third party.

Congress voted last year to repeal the law and a lengthy repeal process was put in place. Military chiefs have certified that military readiness will not be harmed by the change and the majority of troops have undergone training to help them adjust.

The change does not just affect serving troops. Those discharged under the law may now re-enlist, while military recruiters can now begin processing recent applications from openly gay men and women.

All pending investigations and discharges against gay troops will be halted.

In a straightforward statement sent to troops today, the Army said: “The law is repealed. From this day forward, gay and lesbian soldiers may serve in our Army with the dignity and respect they deserve.”