'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Ends

The ban on gays serving openly in the military ends Tuesday. A look at the reaction — at the Pentagon and from around the country.

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LYNN NEARY, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Lynn Neary.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. After 18 years on the books, "don't ask, don't tell" is done. The policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military was officially repealed today. In a moment, we'll hear from an Air Force lieutenant who just went public announcing that he is gay. First, though, we turn to NPR's Rachel Martin. She's at the Pentagon, where she reports it was an ordinary day to mark an extraordinary milestone.

RACHEL MARTIN: Lunchtime at the Pentagon - people in uniforms and business suits roamed around the halls and stopped in at a couple of information booths that are always around - one on how to watch for signs of domestic abuse, the other giving out information on flu shots. There were no gay rights demonstrations or celebrations now that "don't ask, don't tell" is over. It was a normal day, and that's how the Pentagon wanted it to be.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN: It's the right thing to do. It's done. We need to move on.

MARTIN: Admiral Mike Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His testimony on Capitol Hill last year is said to have been a crucial tipping point in the effort to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." He mentioned that testimony today.

MULLEN: I believe then, and I still believe, that it was first and foremost a matter of integrity; that it was fundamentally against everything we stand for, as an institution, to force people to lie about who they are just to wear a uniform. We are better than that.

CLARKE COOPER: There's, you know, joy. There's relief.

MARTIN: That's Clarke Cooper of the Log Cabin Republicans, one of the groups that's been fighting for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Cooper is an Iraq War vet. He's also gay. Cooper says "don't ask, don't tell" forced him and other gay service members to keep their personal lives secret - not bringing family photos into work, going solo to military social events.

COOPER: I know myself and other gay and lesbian service members have had to go years without having important people in our lives participate in those events. So that's going to change. And there are still issues to be addressed in the long term. But for the immediate, that relief of that threat of being discharged has been removed.

MARTIN: One of the issues still being worked out has to do with an even more controversial issue: gay marriage - whether or not a military chaplain can marry a gay service member in a state where gay marriage is legal. But the Pentagon has clarified other questions about repeal. For example, commanders can't create separate showers or housing based on sexual identity, and sexual harassment of any kind won't be tolerated. Here's Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Secretary LEON PANETTA: I'm committed to removing all of the barriers that would prevent Americans from serving their country, and from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant. These are men and women who put their lives on the line in the defense of this country. And that's what should matter the most.

MARTIN: Several gay service members said today was historic in part because of how normal it was. They went to work, did their job. They just didn't have to worry about losing that job because they're gay. Rachel Martin, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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