With Tuesday's repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, gays and lesbians are now free to serve openly in the U.S. armed services.
The U.S. military has spent months preparing for the repeal, updating regulations and training to reflect the impending change, and the Pentagon has already begun accepting applications from openly gay men and women.
The historic shift follows years of battle and debate over the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, also referred to as "DADT." When it was signed by President Clinton in 1993, the policy was hailed by proponents for extending protection to gays and lesbians serving their country. Under the law, commanders were not allowed to ask about someone's sexual orientation, and gays and lesbians were expected to keep their orientation under wraps.
But as gays and lesbians continued to fight for equal rights in other areas of society, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy grew to become a painful reminder that those in the military still had to hide their sexual orientation. Moreover, gays and lesbians who were open about their sexual orientation -- or who were outed -- faced punishment and expulsion.
Such punishments and expulsions will now stop. And the repeal ends any pending investigations or inquiries.
The original drive to lift the ban, and later the DADT policy, pitted those fighting to recognize the service of gay servicemen and women against those who feared it would disrupt the service's sense of order and undermine critical military relationships.
President Obama signed the law that repealed "don't ask, don't tell" and officially certified this summer that it
While gays and lesbians can now serve openly, there are still limits: All servicemen and women -- regardless of sexual orientation -- must continue to abide by strict standards of personal conduct, such as those pertaining to public displays of affection.
Navy Lt. Gary Ross celebrated the appeal by marrying his longtime partner in Vermont at midnight Monday -- the exact moment of the repeal. Ross told the Associated Press that when he returns to work as a surface warfare officer at Ft. Huachuca in Arizona near the Mexican border, he does not plan to make a big deal about the marriage. But he no longer has to keep it a secret either.
The old system "requires you to lie several times a day," he said.