WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama signed a landmark law Wednesday repealing the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military, fulfilling one of his major campaign pledges and casting the issue as a matter of civil rights long denied, the Associated Press reported.
“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,” Obama said.
A beaming Obama signed the bill at the Interior Department, a location chosen to accommodate a larger than normal audience that cheered, chanted and applauded throughout the ceremony.
“This is a good day,” Obama told the crowd. “This is a very good day.”
The law ends the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forced gays to hide their sexual orientation or face dismissal from the military.
More than 13,500 people were discharged under the policy. Its repeal comes as the American public has become more tolerant on such issues as gay marriage and gay rights in general.
“I say to all Americans, gay or straight, who want nothing more than to defend this country in uniform, your country needs you, your country wants you and we will be honored to welcome you into the ranks of the finest military the world has ever known,” Obama said.
Pentagon officials must first complete implementation plans before lifting the old policy — and the president, defense secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs must certify to lawmakers that it won’t damage combat readiness, as critics charge. But Obama said: “We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done.”
The signing ceremony was a breakthrough moment for the nation’s gay community, the military and for Obama himself. The president vowed during his 2008 campaign to repeal the law and faced pressure from liberals who complained he was not acting swiftly enough
For Obama, it was the second high-profile bill signing ceremony within a week. On Friday, he signed into a law a tax package he negotiated with Republicans that extended Bush-era tax rates for two more years, cut payroll taxes and ensured jobless benefits to the unemployed for another year.
Photo: President Barack Obama