"People will look back on this moment and wonder why it was ever a source of controversy in the first place..."
—President Barack Obama
Moments ago, calling it "the right thing to do, period," President Obama signed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell into law.
After appearing almost speechless at first, the president recounted a touching WWII story of a gay soldier who risked his life to save the life of a fallen comrade. Then, the president thanked Democrats and Republicans who put "conviction before politics" to get this done, name-checking Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. Susan Davis, Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Patrick Murphy ("a veteran himself who helped lead the way in Congress"), pictured. The mention of Murphy's name earned him a standing O from the packed crowd.
He praised the "courage and wisdom" of Secretary Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen ("who spoke from the heart and said what he believed was right")—Mullen, too, was awarded an O. General James Cartright and William Lind of the Joint Chief and the authors of the Pentagon review were also noted.
A progressively ebullient Obama emphasized that he was expressing his gratitude to "the men and women in this room who have worn the uniform" in service of our country, and all "the patriots who were forced to hang up their uniforms" but who fought for change.
While Obama noted the policy—which he said came up in his very first military meeting after taking office—is in effect until he, Gates and Mullen certify the military's readiness to implement it, he aggressively stated "we are not gonna be draggin' our feet" to get this done, and said it would happen "swiftly."
President Obama said one of his favorite quotes regarding gays in the military came from a soldier who said, "We have a gay guy in the unit. He's big, he's mean and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cares that he's gay."
In my opinion, the most important aspect of Obama's memorable speech was when he said: "Gay Americans fought just as hard and gave just as much," Obama continued, going on to recite a moving list of all our nation's most memorable battles—including the Revolutionary War—as examples of conflicts that he believes had gay patriots fighting in them.
Obama name-checked famous, DADT-booted soldiers who were present on the stage, like Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, Navy Commander Zoe Dunning (pictured) and Army Captain Jonathan Hopkins. Lieutenant Dan Choi was at the signing—he tweeted overnight that he was "honored to report for duty" and that he'd be reclaiming his ring from Harry Reid at 1PM in Reid's office today—but was not mentioned.
Obama wrapped up by relating that a female service member had whispered in his ear on his recent Afghanistan trip, "Get Don't Ask, Don't Tell done..." and that he'd replied. "I will." His reasoning: "We are not a nation that says, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one.'"
And with that, the bill was signed. Now, we have to (1) keep the White House on its toes regarding implementation; (2) keep an eye on the Christianist nuts and the deranged John McCain; (3) keep the DADT lawsuits going.
[As a postscript—and this is just a personal observation—the White House invited quite a few of the most prominent gay bloggers to attend the signing, many of whom are among the Obama Administration's most ardent critics. Yet many were unable to be there due to holiday commitments. I don't know everyone's specific case (I know Pam Spaulding is recovering from surgery), but I have to say I would have happily dropped any holiday plans I had in order to be there. To actively criticize the president (and rightfully so, in most situations) on a daily basis and then be unable to attend something this monumental just makes it feel like we're unimpressed that this actually came to pass. UPDATE: Apparently, Joe Sudbay of AmericaBlog did attend, so that's good to hear.]