(CNSNews.com) - Nine months after President Barack Obama signed a bill repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that said homosexuals could not openly serve in the U.S. military, the “gay ban” ended Tuesday at one minute after midnight.
The first celebration took place in Vermont, where Navy Lt. Gary Ross and his civilian partner Dan Swezy were married. Ross wore his dress uniform for the double-ring ceremony, which took place at midnight -- the same moment the military’s new policy took effect.
There was no official announcement about the end of DADT on the Defense Department’s Web site early Tuesday morning, nor did the White House Web site make any mention of the fact that soldiers no longer have to conceal their homosexuality.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen were expected to take questions at a news conference later Tuesday, and members of Congress who supported the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell also planned to make comments on Capitol Hill.
Homosexual advocacy groups said celebrations would take place in all 50 states to mark the end “of this terrible law.”
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) called Tuesday a historic milestone -- “the beginning of a new era for all patriots, who can now serve free from the threat of being fired on the basis of sexual orientation.”
“Indeed, we have taken a tremendous leap forward for LGBT equality in the military,” said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis.
Those who oppose the shift in policy include Elaine Donnelly, the founder and president of the Center for Military Readiness, an independent public policy organization that specializes in military personnel issues.
Donnelly told CNN that allowing gays and lesbians to serve will drive many loyal troops out of the military.
"Due to the president's political promises, the military faces heavy burdens of confusion and tension that could have been avoided," Donnelly told CNN. "This is nothing for the administration to be proud of."
Last week, two House Republicans made a final and unsuccessful attempt to delay the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Reps. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said the transition should not take place until the House Armed Services Committee receives all the information it has requested about the final policies and regulations associated with DADT repeal.
But the military insists it is prepared for repeal, and it plans to release new rules and regulations today.
The Associated Press report on DADT repeal is published below:
Repeal of Gay Ban Causing Few Waves in Military
By ROBERT BURNS
AP National Security Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - After years of debate and months of final preparations, the military can no longer prevent gays from serving openly in its ranks.
Repeal of a 1993 law that allowed gays to serve only so long as they kept their sexual orientation private took effect Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. EDT.
Some in Congress still oppose the change, but top Pentagon leaders have certified that it will not undermine the military's ability to recruit or to fight wars.
The Army was distributing a business-as-usual statement Tuesday saying simply, "The law is repealed," and reminding soldiers to treat each other fairly.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, scheduled a Pentagon news conference to field questions about the repeal. And a bipartisan group of congressional supporters of allowing openly gay service planned a news conference on Capitol Hill.
Gay advocacy groups planned a series of celebrations across the country.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said Monday that the military is adequately prepared for the end of the current policy, commonly known as "don't ask, don't tell," under which gays can serve as long as they don't openly acknowledge their sexual orientation and commanders are not allowed to ask.
"No one should be left with the impression that we are unprepared. We are prepared for repeal," Little said.
Last week, the Pentagon said 97 percent of the military has undergone training in the new law.
For weeks the military services have accepted applications from openly gay recruits, while waiting for repeal to take effect before processing the applications.
With the lifting of the ban, the Defense Department will publish revised regulations to reflect the new law allowing gays to serve openly. The revisions, such as eliminating references to banned homosexual service, are in line with policy guidance that was issued by top Pentagon officials in January, after Obama signed the legislation that did away with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The lifting of the 18-year-old ban also brings a halt to all pending investigations, discharges and other administrative proceedings that were begun under the Clinton-era law.
Existing standards of personal conduct, such as those pertaining to public displays of affection, will continue regardless of sexual orientation.
There also will be no immediate changes to eligibility standards for military benefits. All service members already are entitled to certain benefits and entitlements, such as designating a partner as one's life insurance beneficiary or as designated caregiver in the Wounded Warrior program.
Gay marriage is one of the thornier issues. An initial move by the Navy earlier this year to train chaplains about same-sex civil unions in states where they are legal was halted after more than five dozen lawmakers objected. The Pentagon is reviewing the issue.
Service members who were discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" law will be allowed to re-enlist, but their applications will not be given priority over those of any others with prior military experience who are seeking to re-enlist.
Some in Congress remain opposed to repeal, arguing that it may undermine order and discipline.
A leading advocate, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Monday the repeal is overdue.
"Our nation will finally close the door on a fundamental unfairness for gays and lesbians, and indeed affirm equality for all Americans," the California Democrat said.
Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek in Washington and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.