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US Defense Chief Calls Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ‘Historic’

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, and Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, brief the media at the Pentagon in Washington, on Sept. 20, 2011.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is calling it a historic day for the United States and its military. The repeal of the law barring openly homosexual men and women from serving in the military took effect Tuesday, prompting celebrations among gay rights activists and homosexual members of the U.S. armed forces.

The law took effect at a minute past midnight Tuesday Washington time. There were no celebrations on bases, and for many people the date passed unnoticed.

At a Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta joined the nation’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, in praising the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law."

"I believe we move closer to achieving the goal at the foundation of the values that America is all about: Equality, equal opportunity and dignity for all Americans," Panetta said.

Admiral Mullen said homosexual men and women will no longer have to lie about their sexuality in order to serve in the military.

"Today is really about every man and woman who serves this country, every man and woman in uniform regardless of how they define themselves. Tomorrow, they’ll all get up. They’ll all go to work, and they will all be able to do that work honestly and their fellow citizens will be safe from harm and that’s all that really matters," Mullen said.

Opponents of the repeal are calling it a sad day for the U.S. military.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, says she does not agree that the repeal reflects American values.

"The military is unique. It’s different than the civilian world. There is no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces and the conditions of forced intimacy and other circumstances unlike the civilian world certainly justified the previous law," Donnelly said.

The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law was enacted in 1993 under the Clinton administration, replacing a ban on homosexuals in the military. That law was seen as a compromise because it allowed gay men and lesbians to serve as long as they kept their sexuality secret.

Repealing the law was part of a campaign promise made by President Obama, who signed the law last December.

For Marine Corps Reservist Sarah Pezzat, attending an event at the U.S. Capitol, it was an emotional day.

"I am a United States Marine and I am a lesbian. Prior to today if I had said that I could expect to be discharged from the military. I love the Marine Corps, which is why I haven’t been able to completely leave it even though don’t ask don’t tell made my life pretty miserable," Pezzat said.

Activists say their next move is to push for legislation extending marriage benefits to same sex partners of service people.