President Barack Obama signed a landmark law Wednesday repealing the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military, fulfilling one of his major campaign pledges and casting the issue as a matter of civil rights long denied. "No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country that they love," Obama said.
A beaming Obama signed the bill at the Interior Department, a location chosen to accommodate a larger than normal audience that cheered, chanted and applauded throughout the ceremony.
"This is a good day," Obama told the crowd. "This is a very good day."
The new law ends the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy that forced gays to hide their sexual orientation or face dismissal. More than 13,500 people were discharged under the policy. Its repeal comes as the American public has become more tolerant on such issues as gay marriage and gay rights in general.
"I say to all Americans, gay or straight, who want nothing more than to defend this country in uniform, your country needs you, your country wants you, and we will be honored to welcome you into the ranks of the finest military the world has ever known," Obama said.