WASHINGTON (AP) - After years of debate and months of final
preparations, the U.S. military passed a historic milestone Tuesday
with the repeal of a ban on gays serving openly in uniform.
Repeal of the 18-year-old legal ban took effect at 12:01 a.m.
EDT, ending a prohibition that President Barack Obama said had
forced gay and lesbian service members to "lie about who they
Some in Congress still oppose the change, but top Pentagon
leaders have certified that it will not undermine the military's
ability to recruit or to fight wars.
Obama issued a statement saying he is confident that lifting the
ban will enhance U.S. national security.
"As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer
have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they
love," he said. "As of today, our armed forces will no longer
lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay
and lesbian service members."
The Army was distributing a business-as-usual statement Tuesday
saying simply, "The law is repealed," and reminding soldiers to
treat each other fairly.
"From this day forward, gay and lesbian soldiers may serve in
our Army with the dignity and respect they deserve," said the Army
statement, signed by Army Secretary John M. McHugh, Army chief of
staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, and the Army's top enlisted soldier,
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III.
The commander of Air Mobility Command, Gen. Raymond Johns, told
reporters that repeal is being taken in stride in the Air Force.
"It really hasn't come up in any significant conversation" he
has had recently, Johns said. "It's not a big deal."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, scheduled a Pentagon news
conference to field questions about the repeal. And a bipartisan
group of congressional supporters of allowing openly gay service
planned a news conference on Capitol Hill.
Gay advocacy groups began a series of celebrations across the
At a San Diego bar, current and former troops danced and counted
down to midnight. "You are all heroes," Sean Sala, a former Navy
operations specialist, said. "The days of your faces being blacked
out on the news - no more."
The head of Pentagon personnel put out a memo to the work force
at 12:01 a.m. EDT. "All service members are to treat one another
with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation," the
memo from Clifford Stanley said.
"The Department of Defense is committed to promoting an
environment free from personal, social or institutional barriers
that prevent service members from rising to the highest level of
responsibility possible regardless of sexual orientation."
In Iraq, a spokesman for U.S forces put out a statement Tuesday
morning noting that all troops there had been trained for the
Pentagon press secretary George Little said Monday that the
military is adequately prepared for the end of the current policy,
commonly known as "don't ask, don't tell," under which gays can
serve as long as they don't openly acknowledge their sexual
orientation and commanders are not allowed to ask.
"No one should be left with the impression that we are
unprepared. We are prepared for repeal," Little said.
Last week, the Pentagon said 97 percent of the military has
undergone training in the new law.
For weeks the military services have accepted applications from
openly gay recruits, while waiting for repeal to take effect before
processing the applications.
With the lifting of the ban, the Defense Department will publish
revised regulations to reflect the new law allowing gays to serve
openly. The revisions, such as eliminating references to banned
homosexual service, are in line with policy guidance that was
issued by top Pentagon officials in January, after Obama signed the
legislation that did away with the "don't ask, don't tell"
The lifting of the 18-year-old ban also brings a halt to all
pending investigations, discharges and other administrative
proceedings that were begun under the Clinton-era law.
Existing standards of personal conduct, such as those pertaining
to public displays of affection, will continue regardless of sexual
There also will be no immediate changes to eligibility standards
for military benefits. All service members already are entitled to
certain benefits and entitlements, such as designating a partner as
one's life insurance beneficiary or as designated caregiver in the
Wounded Warrior program.
Gay marriage is one of the thornier issues. An initial move by
the Navy earlier this year to train chaplains about same-sex civil
unions in states where they are legal was halted after more than
five dozen lawmakers objected. The Pentagon is reviewing the issue.
Service members who were discharged under the "don't ask, don't
tell" law will be allowed to re-enlist, but their applications
will not be given priority over those of any others with prior
military experience who are seeking to re-enlist.
Some in Congress remain opposed to repeal, arguing that it may
undermine order and discipline.
A leading advocate, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said
Monday the repeal is overdue.
"Our nation will finally close the door on a fundamental
unfairness for gays and lesbians, and indeed affirm equality for
all Americans," the California Democrat said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)