US President Barack Obama signed a historic law on Wednesday repealing the US military’s "don't ask, don't tell" policy, fulfilling a campaign promise to allow gays to openly serve in the armed forces.
AFP - President Barack Obama Wednesday signed a law allowing gays to serve openly in the military, repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in a sweeping and historic shift for the US armed forces.
"We are not a nation that says 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one,'" Obama said in a raucous and emotive ceremony at the Interior Department in Washington.
"No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who are forced to leave the military"
"We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot," Obama said.
The signing ceremony reconciled a promise from Obama's 2008 campaign, and followed a political and moral crusade by activists, and years of opposition from conservatives and some sectors of the military establishment.
The change in policy, which rights activists have compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the integration of the military in 1948 and the great civil rights legislation of the 1960s, will not be enacted overnight, however.
Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen must certify that lifting the ban on gays serving openly can be done without harming readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruitment.
Once the certification is made, the change will enter into force within 60 days.
Opponents say the repeal will badly harm unit cohesion at a time when US forces are embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ultimately denigrate US security.
But Obama argued the new law would "strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.
"No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country that they love."
As Obama arrived on stage, members of the audience chanted "Yes We Can" -- his 2008 campaign slogan, and the president, enjoying a late rebound after a brutal political year, answered "Yes, We did."
The president and his political aides may be hoping that the signing ceremony will go some way to repair his tattered ties with grass roots liberal activists dismayed by his recent tax compromise with Republicans.
Obama paid tribute to Washington politicians who helped to change the law, but reserved special praise for key members of the military establishment that were instrumental in advancing the repeal.
"I am confident that history will remember well the courage and the vision of Secretary Gates," said Obama, who also praised Mullen for speaking from his heart on a difficult political issue.
"As Admiral Mike Mullen has said, 'Our people sacrifice a lot for their country, including their lives. None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity, as well.'"
Obama, acting in his role as commander in chief, also said that he was confident that the military would responsibly implement the policy change.
In the years since the ban was enacted as a compromise, some 13,000 US troops have been ousted, and critics have pointed out that many were trained at great expense, like fighter pilots, or had hard-to-find skills, such as Arabic translators.
Date created : 2010-12-22