Following a dramatic and eloquent speech, on Dec. 22 President Obama signed the legislation that will launch the repeal of a 17-year-old law that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the military.
"This is done," he said, looking up and slapping his hand on the table, and the crowded auditorium of an Interior Department building in Washington, D.C., erupted with cheers and applause.
The historic ceremony took place less than 24 hours after Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took an 11th-hour action of trying to make implementation of repeal much more difficult and time-consuming. According to a report on Politico.com, McConnell tried to introduce an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would have required that implementation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ( DADT ) not take place until after the four service chiefs certify that it could be done without negative consequences for military readiness. The DADT-repeal legislation requires certification by the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
According to Politico, McConnell attempted to add the amendment by unanimous consent, but Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., a champion of the repeal measure, objected. Lieberman's objection effectively blocked the amendment from being considered without first getting the consent of at least 60 senators.
The president was greeted with a roar of cheers and applause after he was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden at 9:13 a.m. on Dec. 22. As the president greeted many special guests on stage with him, the crowded began to chant, "Yes, we can"a prominent slogan of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. When the president reached the podium, he smiled and called back, "Yes, we did."
"I am just overwhelmed," said Obama, beginning his prepared remarks. "This is a very good day, and I want to thank all of you, especially the people on this stage." He then told a story about a soldier who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in the Belgian mountains against the Germans in World War II. The soldier, Andy Lee, put his own life in peril in order to scale a ravine and rescue a fellow soldier, Lloyd Corwin. Forty years later, Lee let Corwin know he was gay.
"He had no idea," said Obama of Corwin, "and didn't much care. Lloyd knew what mattered. He knew what kept him alive."
Obama also told the story of a young female servicemember who gave him a hug on a receiving line in Afghanistan several weeks ago, when the president made a visit to the troops. The woman whispered in his ear, "Get 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' done," said the president. "And I said to her, 'I promise you I will.'"
With the signing of the bill, Obama has also fulfilled a long-standing promise to the LGBT community overall, a feat that is prompting widespread praise, even from gay Republicans.
"He made this a priority," said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. "He was sincere and correct about making this a priority." Cooper, a former servicemember who had a front row seat during the ceremony, said that, as the president shook hands with guests on the front row, following the ceremony, Cooper said to the president, "You said 'Get me those [ Republican ] votes,' and I got more than you needed."
In a critical procedural vote to force the repeal measure to the floor in the Senate Dec. 18, six Republicans joined Democrats and Independents to provide more than the 60 votes necessary to break the Republican-led filibuster.
Cooper said the ceremony was a "very emotional" one in the auditorium and that "there were definitely many tears of joy" in his eyes and in the eyes of other former servicemembers discharged under the DADT policy during the past 17 years.
The president acknowledged the tenacious work of numerous individuals during the Dec. 22 ceremony, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republican Senator Susan Collins, and the bill's sponsor Rep. Patrick Murphy. NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Mark Whitaker, speaking on MSNBC shortly before the ceremony, said it was House Majority Whip Hoyer whose idea it was to take DADT-repeal language out of the annual defense authorization billwhich was being filibustered by McConnell, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and most Republicansand put it into a special standalone bill in the House last week.
The House passed that bill Dec. 15 by a 250-175 vote and sent it immediately to the Senate, which approved it Dec. 18 65-31.
The president also singled out Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., in the front of the auditorium, for having "kept up the fight" in the House.
Speaking to MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell Dec. 21, Frank characterized the Congressional vote to repeal DADT as being "comparable to the 1964 Civil Rights Act."
"It is an enormous move forward," said Frank. Frank said he was moved by a special ceremony held on Capitol Hill Dec. 21 by House Speaker Pelosi and Majority Whip Hoyer to sign the enrollment document for the bill to be sent to the president. Frank said the hundreds of people in attendance saying "God Bless America."
"It was a very moving moment," said Frank.
Also on stage for the Dec. 22 ceremony were Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, an openly gay Marine who was the first servicemember wounded in the Iraq War.
The president used 15 pens to sign the legislation into law. It could not be determined by deadline to whom those pens will be given.
�2010 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network statement
"In signing this bill today, President Obama delivered on a defining civil rights measure for our country and for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members who have been silenced for far too long. Clearly, this is President Obama's Lyndon Johnson moment in history. A measure of dignity has been restored to thousands of service members on active duty, and to over a million gay veterans who served in silence. This historic moment is about those service members and their service," said Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and executive director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
"President Obama was decisive and forceful in steering the course as he brought along critical stakeholders, including the Defense Department. Now, it's on to finishing the job at the Pentagon. Troops remain at risk under the law. We respectfully renew our call for Secretary Gates to use his authority to suspend all 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' investigations and discharges during this limbo period. Until there is certification and until the 60-day implementation period must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011."
"This victory would not have been possible without several tenacious Congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. In the Senate we saw remarkable determination by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Chairman Carl Levin and Senators Lieberman, Mark Udall, Gillibrand, Collins and so many others," said Sarvis.
ABOUT SLDN: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network was established in 1993 when "Don't Ask" originally passed. In addition to working on repeal, SLDN offers free, confidential legal services to those impacted by the discriminatory law. This year the organization received its 10,000th call for assistance to its legal hotline.
STILL AT RISK: Despite the President signing the bill, service members still cannot come out. "Don't Ask" will remain the law. Warning to service members:www.SLDN.org/StillAtRisk
SLDN FREE HOTLINE: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members with questions are urged to contact the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: 202-328-3244 x100.
WARNING: WHY SERVICE MEMBERS MAY STILL BE DISCHARGED EVEN AFTER THE PRESIDENTIAL BILL SIGNING / SERVICE MEMBERS REMAIN VULNERABLE
Even after the President signs the bill, service members will remain at risk for investigation and discharge. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will still be the law until 60 days after the Commander-in-Chief, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify repeal can happen. Read SLDN's warnings to service members: www.sldn.org/StillAtRisk.
WHAT IS CERTIFICATION:
The President would transmit to the congressional Armed Services Committees a written certification, signed by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stating each of the following:
o ( A ) That the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the recommendations contained in the report and the report's proposed plan of action.
o ( B ) That the Department of Defense has prepared the necessary policies and regulations to exercise the discretion provided by the amendments made by subsection ( f ) .
o ( C ) That the implementation of necessary policies and regulations pursuant to the discretion provided by the amendments made by subsection ( f ) is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will still be the law at this point. Service members will still be discharged. Read SLDN's warnings: www.sldn.org/StillAtRisk.
REPEAL EFFECTIVE 60 DAYS AFTER CERTIFICATION TRANSMITTAL:
After the President transmits written certification to the congressional Armed Services Committees, full repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would be effective 60 days later.
EXECUTIVE ORDER BY THE PRESIDENT:
Merely repealing DADT won't ensure that lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members can serve free of discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Policies and regulations would need to be written and put in place. SLDN will encourage the President to issue an executive order protecting service members from discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
o This gives the President the opportunity to show strong leadership by adding non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to the uniform side of the military via Executive Order.
o EO 9981 ( 1948 ) issued by President Harry Truman prohibited discrimination in the armed services on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.
o EO 11478 ( 1969 ) prohibited discrimination in employment within the federal government based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or age. It applied to all civilian employees, including those in the Defense Department.
o EO 13087 ( 1998 ) issued by President Bill Clinton added sexual orientation in federal employment guidelines has been successful and set a durable precedent. OPM issued a guidance booklet in 1999,http://www.opm.gov/er/orientation.htm.
Human Rights Campaign Statement on President Signing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Repeal into Law
WASHINGTON Today President Obama signed legislation that will result in the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ( DADT ) . Following the signing ceremony, HRC President Joe Solmonese made the following statement:
"Today gay and lesbian patriots serving their country in silence, and thousands more who wish to serve the country they love, can breathe a sigh of relief that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is on its way out. Soon, all service members will be able to serve with the full honesty and integrity the uniform demands. No more careers will come to an end because of an unjust law. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' has weakened our military readiness and is now on its way to the dustbin of history."
"After 17 years of this failed and discriminatory law, a stain has been removed from our nation. This historic day would not be possible without the leadership of President Obama, Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen. In the U.S. House of Representatives, we are grateful to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Rep. Patrick Murphy for their dogged determination. And in the U.S. Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Sens. Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Kirsten Gillibrand and Mark Udall will go down in history as champions of this national security measure. Through their leadership, they have made our nation more secure and restored honesty and integrity as core values of our military."
"It's now incumbent on the president and the Pentagon to act expeditiously so that the final nail can be put in the coffin of this unjust and discriminatory law."
The final end to the discriminatory ban will happen only after a certification process followed by another 60 day period. The Human Rights Campaign continues to warn service members that even after the President signs the bill, they are at risk for discharge as the repeal of DADT is not effective immediately.
The following was issued by the White House in advance of the signing
THE WHITE HOUSE, Office of the Press Secretary
In the morning, the President and the Vice President will deliver remarks and the President will sign into law the Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 in a ceremony at the Department of the Interior. The audience will be made up of approximately 500 attendees, including Administration officials, Members of Congress and key advocates and stakeholders.
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn
Speaker Nancy Pelosi ( D-CA )
Senator Harry Reid ( D-NV ) , Majority Leader
Representative Steny Hoyer ( D-MD ) , Majority Leader
Senator Joe Lieberman ( I-CT )
Senator Susan Collins ( R-ME )
Representative Patrick Murphy ( D-PA )
Representative Susan Davis ( D-CA )
Eric Alva, Former Staff Sgt, US Marine Corps
Zoe Dunning, Former Commander, US Navy
Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva was the first American wounded in the war in Iraq. On March 21, 2003, he was traveling in Iraq in a convoy to Basra with his battalion when he stepped on a landmine, breaking his right arm and damaging his leg so badly that it needed to be amputated. Alva was awarded a Purple Heart and received a medical discharge from the military. Alva has been working with the Human Rights Campaign to speak out against the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy banning lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans from serving in the armed forces.
Commander Zoe Dunning has been a tireless advocate for fighting the military's policies prohibiting open gay service. Dunning is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. In January 1993, while a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves, Dunning publicly came out as a lesbian at a political rally outside the gates of California's Moffett Field. Dunning won her subsequent two-and-a-half year legal battle to remain in the Navy Reserves. The Navy promoted her twice and awarded her the Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Medal since her coming out. She retired in June 2007 and holds the distinction of serving her country as an openly gay member of the U.S. military for over 13 years.
Pledge of Allegiance: COL Margarethe Cammermeyer, US Army ( Ret. )
Margarethe ( Grethe ) joined the US Army and after graduating from college, served seven years on active duty and married a fellow military officer. Awarded the Bronze Star for service in Vietnam, she was forced to leave the military after becoming pregnant with her first child. When military regulations changed in 1972 and women were allowed to serve in the military with dependents, Margarethe returned to the Army Reserves. She later transferred to the National Guard, ultimately serving 31 years in the military prior to retirement as Washington State Chief Nurse. In 1989 Grethe disclosed, in a security clearance investigation, that she was a lesbian which resulted in her discharge in 1992. She challenged her discharge. In 1994 she was reinstated in the military as though never discharged. In June 2010 she was selected as a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, ( DACOWITS ) .
Invocation: Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff
Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff is a consultant on interfaith values and interreligious affairs; a former line officer who served in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, followed by assignments with Naval Intelligence before attending rabbinical school; a retired Navy Chaplain who earned the Defense Superior Service Medal for his work with military and civilian leaders throughout Europe, Africa, and the Mid-East while serving as the Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command; and a former National Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee. From June 2005 to June 2006, he served as Special Assistant ( for Values and Vision ) to the Secretary and Chief-of-Staff of the U.S. Air Force, with the equivalent military rank of Brigadier General. Headquartered in the Pentagon, this appointment took him to Air Force bases in more than ten countries around the world, including those in Iraq, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. On June 16, 2006, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne presented him with the USAF Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service--the highest award that the Air Force can present to a civilian. In addition to rabbinic ordination, he has three masters degrees, in International Relations, Strategic Studies and National Security Affairs, and Rabbinics, and a doctorate from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS EXPECTED TO ATTEND
Senator Harry Reid, D-NV
Senator Dick Durbin, D-IL
Senator Joe Lieberman, I-CT
Senator Susan Collins, R-ME
Senator Barbara Boxer , D-CA
Senator Sherrod Brown, OH
Senator Ben Cardin, D-MD
Senator Bob Casey, D-PA
Senator Al Franken, D-MN
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY
Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ
Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT
Senator Jeff Merkley, D-OR
Senator Patty Murray, D-WA
Senator Mark Udall, D-CO
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA
Representative Steny Hoyer, D-MD
Representative Rob Andrews, D-NJ
Representative Tammy Baldwin, D-WI
Representative Jim Clyburn, D-SC
Representative John Conyers, D-MI
Representative Joe Courtney, D-CT
Representative Susan Davis, D-CA
Representative Barney Frank, D-MA
Representative Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ
Representative Jane Harman, D-CA
Representative Martin Heinrich, D-NM
Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-TX
Representative Hank Johnson, D-GA
Representative Frank Kratovil, D-MD
Representative Jim Langevin, D-RI
Representative Rick Larsen, D-WA
Representative John Lewis, D-GA
Representative Jim Moran, D-VA
Representative Patrick Murphy, D-PA
Representative Scott Murphy, D-NY
Representative Jerrold Nadler, D-NY
Representative Glenn Nye, D-VA
Representative Chellie Pingree, D-ME
Representative Todd Platts, R-PA
Representative Jared Polis, D-CO
Representative Mike Quigley, D-IL
Representative Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH
Representative Vic Snyder, D-AR
Representative Nikki Tsongas, D-MA
Representative Tim Walz, D-MN