WASHINGTON — President Obama at 9:35am on Wednesday signed into law historic legislation striking down the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian soldiers.
According to the Associated Press, “So many gay rights and Democratic activists were expected at the signing ceremony that the White House booked a large auditorium at the Interior Department.”
The signing of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal bill into law marks a watershed moment in Obama’s presidency and in the fight for LGBT equality at the federal level. On the campaign trail, President Obama vowed to help orchestrate the end of DADT, and inaction on the issue perceived by LGBT equality advocates over the past two years of his presidency caused a noticeable rift between Obama and many of his gay and lesbian supporters. However, the White House reportedly reached out to lawmakers to urge the passage of a standalone DADT repeal bill in the days before its 65-31 approval by the Senate on Saturday (The House approved the bill earlier last week by a vote of 250-174).
As a result, gay men and lesbians will be able to serve openly in the armed services for the first time in our nation’s history. Since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was passed into law in 1993, more than 14,000 service members have been discharged under the policy on the basis of their sexual orientation alone.
“By ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love,” Mr. Obama said. “It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed,” said President Obama in a statement released of the signing ceremony.
A timeline for the full implementation of the new law remains unclear: The legislation requires defense leaders to develop plans to educate troops on the implications of the policy and certify to lawmakers that it won’t harm combat readiness or effectiveness.
During the signing ceremony, President Obama vowed the certification would be done “swiftly and efficiently,” saying, “We’re not going to be dragging our feet.” Nonetheless, the process is widely expected to take anywhere from weeks to several months. Other murky legal issues will likely come to a head after the signing of the law, including how to handle pending expulsion proceedings and a timeline for when those ousted under DADT may be eligible to rejoin the services.