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'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Formally Ends
Openly gay people will now be able to serve in the US military after repeal of controversial 18-year-old DADT law
An 18-year-old law that prevented serving US military personnel from disclosing that they were gay has been formally repealed.
At one minute past midnight eastern time (0401 GMT), the controversial don't ask don't tell (DADT) law was abolished after its repeal was signed into law some nine months ago.
Introduced by President Clinton in 1993 as a compromise step to full equality, DADT allowed gay and lesbian members of the military to serve only if their sexuality remained secret or was not reported.
The Servicemembers Legal Defence Network estimates that since the law's introduction, 13,000 gay men and lesbians have been discharged after their sexual orientation was revealed.
In some cases dismissals were made on the basis of testimony from jilted lovers or those with personal grievances.
Barack Obama had pledged to overturn DADT during his 2008 election campaign, but action on the issue appeared stalled until his January 2010 state of the union speech. Injecting fresh energy into the cause Obama said: "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."
The call was met with stony silence from members of the military seated in front of the president, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Days later, the then defence secretary, Robert Gates, told Senate hearings: "The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we … best prepare for it. We have received our orders from the commander-in-chief and we are moving out accordingly."
In March 2010 the Pentagon relaxed rules surrounding DADT. The military decided to no longer investigate anonymous complaints and third party testimony had to be sworn under oath.
An internal survey commissioned by the Pentagon and released last year found that two-thirds of all military personnel supported the repeal.
Navy Lieutenant Gary Ross, 33, and Dan Swezy, a 49-year-old civilian, travelled from their home in Arizona to get married in Vermont and take advantage of the law's repeal the moment it came into effect.
The two men recited vows before family and friends at a ceremony which began at 11.45pm on Monday night. Just after midnight, the partners of 11 years were married.
"I think it was a beautiful ceremony. The emotions really hit me … but it's finally official," Ross said.
Polls have consistently showed that roughly two-thirds of Americans believe gay men and lesbians should be able to disclose their sexual orientation and serve openly.