By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2010 - President Barrack Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law here today.
"We are not a nation that says, 'Don't ask, don't tell,'" the president said at the signing ceremony. "We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one.'
"We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot," he added. "We are a nation that believes all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today, and now it is my honor to sign this bill into law."
The act repeals Section 654, Title 10, of the United States Code, which barred people who are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual from serving in the U.S. military. Today's signing, as the president pointed out, begins a process that will culminate in full repeal over the coming months.
The old policy remains in effect until Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, and the president certify the military's readiness to implement the repeal, the commander in chief said. "It's especially important for servicemembers to remember that," he added.
The president said he has spoken to all of the service chiefs, and all are committed to implementing the change swiftly.
"We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done," Obama said. "As commander in chief, I am certain that we can effect this transition in a way that only strengthens our military readiness. People will look back on this moment and wonder [why it was] ever a source of controversy in the first place."
Mullen and Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn attended the signing. Several former servicemembers discharged under the old policy also were present. Obama commended their efforts and others' in bringing about the change.
"I also want to commend our military leadership," he said. "Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a topic in my first meeting with Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and the Joint Chiefs. We talked about how to end this policy; we talked about how success in both passing and implementing this change depended on working closely with the Pentagon. And that's what we did."
Obama praised his defense and national security leaders for their oversight of the change. "The courage and the vision of Secretary Gates, of Admiral Mike Mullen, who spoke from the heart and said what he believed was right, of General James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Deputy Secretary William Lynn ...," he said, "also the authors of the Pentagon's review, Jeh Johnson [defense general counsel] and General Carter Ham [commander, U.S. Army Europe], who did outstanding and meticulous work - and all those who laid the groundwork for this transition."
The president said he has "every confidence" of the professionalism and patriotism of U.S. military members as repeal moves forward.
"With any change, there's some apprehension," Obama said. "Just as [servicemembers] have adapted and grown stronger with each of the other changes, I know they will do so again. I know that Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, as well as the vast majority of servicemembers themselves share this view ... based on their own experiences, including the experience of serving with dedicated, duty-bound servicemembers who are also gay. "
Obama said he wanted to speak directly to gay men and women serving in the military.
"For a long time, your service has demanded a particular kind of sacrifice," he said. "You've been asked to carry added burden of secrecy and isolation, and all the while you've put your lives on the line for the freedoms and privileges of citizenship that are not fully granted to you.
"You're not the first to have carried this burden," he continued. "For while today marks the end of a particular struggle that has lasted almost two decades, this is a moment more than two centuries in the making. There will never be a full accounting of the heroism demonstrated by gay Americans in service to this country. Their service has been obscured in history; it's been lost to prejudices that have waned in our own lifetimes."
Gay servicemembers who will gain the right to serve openly when repeal is fully implemented, Obama said, will stand for all those who came before them who did not enjoy that right.
"You will serve as role models to all who come after," he said. "I know you will fulfill this responsibility with integrity and honor, just as you have every other mission with which you've been charged."
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