Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Ban on gays in military ends

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(Photo: Associated Press)

(ABC7, 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.

President Barack Obama issued a statement saying he is confident that lifting the ban will enhance U.S. national security.

"As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love," he said. "As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members."

Marine Corps Captain Sara Pezzat can finally be open about who she is.

“It is like a breath of fresh air,” Pezzat said. “It's a huge weight that's been lifted from my shoulders.”

She feels a sense of relief that she can be open and honest about her sexuality without fear of losing her job.

“We are all military serve members first some of us happen to be gay or lesbian,” she said. “I think we'll celebrate today and go back to work tomorrow.”

Air Force Staff Sergeant Jonathan Mills says the now former policy has forced him to lead a double life.

“We don't have to worry about slipping up and saying the wrong thing and jeopardizing our careers just because of the wrong word,” he said.

The Army was distributing a business-as-usual statement Tuesday saying simply, "The law is repealed," and reminding soldiers to treat each other fairly.

The commander of Air Mobility Command, Gen. Raymond Johns, told reporters that repeal is being taken in stride in the Air Force.

"It really hasn't come up in any significant conversation" he has had recently, Gen. Raymond Johns said. "It's not a big deal."

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.

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