The repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces went into effect Tuesday, which Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called “an historic day for the Pentagon and the nation.”
In a press conference at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Panetta said that “thanks to this change I believe we move closer to achieving the goal at the foundation of the values that America is all about. Equality, equal opportunity and dignity for all Americans.”
Admiral Mike Mullen called the repeal “first and foremost a matter of integrity. [DADT] was fundamentally against everything we stand for as an institution.” He added that he’s “convinced we did the work necessary to prepare for this change,” and that “today is really about every man and woman who serves this country, every man in woman in uniform regardless of how they define themselves.”
“It’s the right thing to do, it’s done, and we need to move on,” Mullen said.
Military leadership had written in a letter that beginning just after midnight on Tuesday, the military’s “rules, regulations and policies reflect the repeal guidance issued by the Department of Defense and will apply uniformly without regard to sexual orientation, which is a personal an private matter.”
“We expect all personnel to follow our Values by implementing the repeal fully, fairly and in accordance with policy guidance,” the letter continued. “It is the duty of all personnel to treat each other with dignity and respect, while maintaining good order and discipline throughout our ranks. Doing so, will help the U.S. Army remain the Strength of the Nation.”
Read the full letter here (.pdf).
The DADT repeal took effect after 18 years and after more than 14,000 military discharges. Congress passed the repeal back in December by a vote of 65-31, and President Obama signed it into law shortly after.
Obama released a statement Tuesday marking the end of the policy, saying “the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is finally and formally repealed.”
“I was proud to sign the Repeal Act into law last December because I knew that it would enhance our national security, increase our military readiness, and bring us closer to the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans. Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change,” Obama said.
Here’s the President’s full statement:
Today, the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is finally and formally repealed. 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. As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.
I was proud to sign the Repeal Act into law last December because I knew that it would enhance our national security, increase our military readiness, and bring us closer to the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans. Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to Members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform who showed that they were ready to move forward together, as one team, to meet the missions we ask of them.
For more than two centuries, we have worked to extend America’s promise to all our citizens. Our armed forces have been both a mirror and a catalyst of that progress, and our troops, including gays and lesbians, have given their lives to defend the freedoms and liberties that we cherish as Americans. Today, every American can be proud that we have taken another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation’s founding ideals.