The law banning homosexuals from openly serving in the U.S. military has been repealed, sparking celebrations among gay organizations. Since its implementation in 1993, thousands of service people have been expelled from the military for revealing their sexuality.
For former Air Force Major Mike Almy, this day marks the end of a painful chapter.
He was thrown out of the Air Force after 13 years of service, when superiors discovered he had a homosexual relationship with another man in the military.
"Nothing will repair that damage that was done to my career," said Almy. "I served 13 years. I did four deployments to the Middle East. I grew up in an Air Force family. I’ve been in the Air Force my whole life. I love it and I miss it."
Almy is one of about 14,000 U.S. service people expelled from the military for violating the "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" law, which implicitly allowed homosexuals to serve as long as they were not open about it.
Gay rights activists pushed for enactment of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 1993 - ending an outright ban on homosexuals in the military. But in 2010 they fought to have it repealed, and replaced with a policy that would allow homosexuals to serve openly.
Since his discharge, Almy has joined the fight for repeal and become a symbol of the push for gay rights in the military.
He is celebrating, but hopes the day passes like any other.
"Probably not many people will notice this day and that’s a good thing," said Almy. "Because what that means is that we have far more important issues to worry about than someone’s sexual orientation that’s serving in the armed forces."
The repeal is cause for worry among those who see homosexual behavior as detrimental to good order, discipline and morale in the armed forces.
Tommy Sears, executive director of the Center for Military Readiness, says a person’s private life does matter in the military, where troops often live in conditions of little or no privacy.
"Our troops don’t spend all their time just on the battlefield," said Sears. "So the policy and the law was put into place to take into account as you have to in a military environment all facets of a service member’s life."
Sears and other repeal opponents complain the measure was rushed through Congress without sufficient discussion.
For Mike Almy, enactment of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a first step. Its repeal is a second advance. He is celebrating, and preparing for the next battle - one for nationwide legalization of same-sex marriages and the treatment of homosexual partners as military spouses.
"That’s going to take an act of Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which will be the next major hurdle," added Almy. "For now, we’ll celebrate repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but this is just the beginning towards full equality."
The Pentagon says it has been preparing troops to operate under the new policy, and officials say they expect no problems.
Discipline will ensure obedience of the new rules, even among those who might disagree with them.
Almy wants to re-enlist. Once inside, he pledges to work to change minds and hearts within the ranks.