From NYT: By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON — The military’s longstanding ban on service by gays and lesbians came to a historic and symbolic end on Wednesday, as President Obama signed legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the contentious 17-year old Clinton-era law that sought to allow gays to serve under the terms of an uneasy compromise that required them to keep their sexuality a secret.
“No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie or look over their shoulder,” Mr. Obama said during a signing ceremony in a packed auditorium at the Interior Department here. Quoting the chairman of his joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, Mr. Obama went on, “Our people sacrifice a lot for their country, including their lives. None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity as well.”
The repeal does not immediately put a stop to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Mr. Obama must still certify that changing the law to allow homosexual and bisexual men and women to serve openly in all branches of the military will not harm readiness, as must Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen, before the military can implement the new law. But the secretary and the admiral have backed Mr. Obama, who said ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a topic of his first meeting with the men. He praised Mr. Gates for his courage; Admiral Mullen, who was on stage with the president during the signing ceremony here, received a standing ovation.
While there is still significant resistance within the military to the change in policy, especially within the Marine Corps, at least one proponent — Representative Barney Frank, the openly gay Democrat from Massachusetts — insisted on Wednesday that this latest effort to integrate the armed services will go more smoothly than did racial or gender integration.
“Reality will very soon make it clear that there is nothing to worry about,” Mr. Frank said. He called the signing the biggest civil rights moment in the nation since the signing of voting rights legislation in the 1960s. “If you can fight for your country, you can do anything,” he said.
In the years since President Bill Clinton first enacted “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 1993, some 17,000 service members have been discharged under the policy. While many gay people in the military are now breathing a sigh of relief, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents soldiers facing charges under the policy, is warning its members that they are “still at risk” because the repeal will not take full effect until 60 days after Mr. Obama, the defense secretary and admiral certify readiness.
“The bottom line is DADT is still in effect and it is not safe to come out,” the organization said.
For Mr. Obama, the ceremony — held at the Interior Department because the White House is tied up with holiday tours — marked yet another in a string of last-minute, bipartisan legislative triumphs, a surprising turnaround in the wake of the self-described “shellacking” his party took at the polls last month. He had already signed a bipartisan tax deal into law, and the Senate appears headed on Wednesday to approve a new nuclear arms pact with Russia, which will give him a significant foreign policy victory as he wraps up the first half of his term. He looked relaxed and upbeat as he soaked up the energy from an enthusiastic crowd.For the gay rights movement, which has been frustrated with the pace of progress under Mr. Obama, Wednesday marked a celebratory turning point. “Thank you, Mr. President,” someone shouted, as Mr. Obama took the stage, prompting a round of other shouts: “Chicago’s in the house, Mr. President! You rock, Mr. President!” Mr. Obama pronounced himself overwhelmed.
The audience for the ceremony included a who’s who of gay activists, among them Frank Kameny, who was fired from a civilian job as an Army astronomer in 1957 — an act that prompted him to found a gay rights advocacy organization in Washington D.C. and to file a lawsuit which went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1965 he picketed the White House, in the first ever demonstration there by gays.
Now white-haired at 85, Mr. Kameny also served as an enlisted Army soldier; he signed up in May 1943, he said, three days before he turned 18, and saw “front line combat” in Germany during World War II. He said he was asked if he had “homosexual tendencies” and denied it. “They asked, and I didn’t tell,” he said, “and I resented for 67 years that I had to lie.”