Wednesday morning, President Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – the Clinton-era policy that prevented gays and lesbians from openly serving in the armed forces.
Politico reports that approximately 500 were in attendance at the signing, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Neither Democrat was present when Obama signed the tax cut extension last week, claiming they had pressing business.
Only two Republicans were present at the signing, Senator Susan Collins and Representative Todd Platts
In his introduction, Vice President Biden said, “By signing this bill, you will be linking military might with an abiding sense of justice.”
The crowd then began chanting “Yes, we did,” and the President responded: “Yes, we did”.
The President remarked, “I am just overwhelmed. This is a very good day. And I want to thank all of you.”
He then told a story of a soldier whose life was saved by his friend during the Battle of the Bulge. The friend told him years later that he was gay.
“He knew that valor and sacrifice are limited no more by sexual orientation” than by race and religion, Obama said, noting that the soldier’s son is in the audience. “That’s the reason that we’re here today.”
“This morning, I am proud to sign a law that will bring an end to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” he says. “This law I’m about to sign will strengthen our national security.”
President Obama said the repeal was not only good for the military, but it was “the right thing to do, period.”
Thanking the members of Congress who pushed the repeal, he said, “They held their shoulders to the wheel in the Senate.”
Showering military leaders with praise, the President remarked, “History will remember well the courage and vision of Secretary Gates, of Admiral Mike Mullen, who spoke from the heart and said what he believed was right,” he said.
Obama also expressed his gratitude to the veterans who were at the ceremony, including “all of them who were forced to hang up their uniforms as a result of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ “
The old policy will remain in effect until the President determines when the military is ready to do away with it, but promised to act swiftly, saying, “We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done.” He predicted that people will wonder “why was there ever a source of controversy in the first place.”
He said gay troops fought at Gettysburg and at Iwo Jima. “Their names are etched into the walls of our memorials. Their headstones dot the grounds at Arlington,” he said. “So as the first generation serving openly in our armed forces, you will stand for all those who came before you. You will serve as role models for all who come in. I know you will fulfill this responsibility with integrity and honor, just as you have every other mission.”
Speaking to the gay community, Obama said, “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 recalled that when he visited Afghanistan a few weeks ago, a woman grabbed him in a rope line and whispered to him, “Get ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ done.” He promised her he would.
“For we are not a nation that says, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” he said. Paraphrashing the national motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’, he said, “We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one.’ We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. … It is my honor to sign this bill into law.”