MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – The controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” program that forced gays and lesbians to stay in the closet in order to serve in the military ended Tuesday morning.
“As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.”
The program was originally a political compromise that didn’t please either side. It was originally enacted under former President Bill Clinton. The measure forbade recruiters from asking about a recruits sexuality, or officers investigating a soldier’s sexuality without credible evidence.
“I was proud to sign the Repeal Act into law last December because I knew that it would enhance our national security, increase our military readiness, and bring us closer to the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans,” President Obama said in a statement.
The Defense Department said Monday that the military is ready for the change. In addition, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that nearly all service members have taken the training needed with the law’s repeal.
The Defense Department said recruiters are currently accepting applications from openly gay and lesbian applicants.
“No one should be left with the impression that we are unprepared,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
Defense Secretary Panetta along with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen will be holding a Tuesday afternoon news conference to discuss in more detail the changes that will take effect.
Since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted, more than 14,000 service members have been discharged from the military.
Advocates say that now that with the ending of the policy, there should be a wave of re-enlistments and a reversal of dishonorable discharges.