WASHINGTON – Declaring that members of the military will no longer be asked to lie, President Barack Obama fulfilled a campaign promise Wednesday and signed a landmark law repealing the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the armed services.
"This is a good day," a beaming Obama said. "This is a very good day."
The service chiefs must complete implementation plans before lifting the old policy - and they must certify to lawmakers that it won't damage combat readiness, as critics charge.
But 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.
The two events, however, could not have been more different in tone.
The tax deal divided Democrats and forced Obama to accept extensions of tax cuts for the wealthiest, a step he had promised to not take. With Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell at his side, Obama seemed dutiful and subdued.
The signing of the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" had the feel of a political rally. Speaking in the Interior Department's auditorium, Obama appeared in his element as shouts of "Thank you, Mr. President!" interrupted him.
Obama hailed the "courage and vision" of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and praised Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who advocated changing the 17-year-old policy.
"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.