WASHINGTON (CBS/BCN) – President Obama signed historic legislation to allow repeal of the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gay men and women from serving openly in the military on Wednesday morning, and a military veteran from San Francisco was one of the people invited to Washington to join the president in celebrating the new legislation.
“No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced the leave the military, regardless of their skills, no matter the zeal or exemplary performance because they happen to be gay,” he said. “No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie.”
The president described the signing as “the right thing to do for our military,” as well as “the right thing to do, period.”
Zoe Dunning, a former Navy commander and co-chair of the board of directors for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, cheered from San Francisco as the Senate passed the legislation this weekend, then got an invitation on Monday to join Obama in Washington for the signing of the bill.
Dunning, who served in active duty for six years and for another 16 in the reserves, 13 of which she spent as an open lesbian, has worked on repealing the policy for nearly two decades and was overjoyed to receive the invitation from the White House.
“It was thrilling, it really was,” she said. “I’m very humbled and honored after working on this issue for so many years.”
She flew out from San Francisco to Washington on Monday night and was standing by Obama’s right shoulder when he signed the bill into law this morning.
After advocating for the legislation for so long, Dunning made sure the president spelled his name right when he signed it.
“When he was signing his name, he got to the ‘R’ in Barack, and I said ‘Make sure you spell it right,’” she said. “He laughed, Speaker Pelosi laughed, it was a great moment.”
The law will not go into effect for at least a couple of months. Obama also has to certify, along with the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that repealing the policy would not hinder the troops.
Once all those signatures are in place, there will be a 60-day waiting period until the repeal can go into effect.
Obama said in his speech prior to signing the bill that he and the military leadership “are all committed to implementing this change swiftly and efficiently. We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done.”
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)