(CNSNews.com) – For the first time in the history of the U.S. military, the Pentagon auditorium on Tuesday was the setting for a celebration of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transexuality that included short addresses by the commander and chief and the defense secretary via video.
President Barack Obama’s video message was initially released on June 1, the first day of Gay Pride Month. In the message, Obama praises lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans as “unsung heroes.”
“Bit by bit, step by step, they bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice,” Obama said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s video message was also featured on the purple program handed out at the event, which included a panel of gay men and women speaking about their experiences in the U.S. military.
“Diversity is one of our greatest strengths,” Panetta said. “During Pride Month, and every month, let us celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.”
Panelists and speakers, including Panetta, touted the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a positive change in U.S. military policy and one that has gone smoothly.
“The pursuit of equality is fundamental to the American story,” Panetta said. “The successful repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ proved to the nation that just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values, and different beliefs – but we are the greatest military force in the world.”
Panetta said all four branches of the military “implemented the repeal with a focus on respect and individual dignity.”
Keynote speaker Jeh Johnson, general counsel for the Department of Defense and the person credited for spearheading the effort to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said that the next step is to mount efforts to provide federal benefits to “partners and other family members of gay and lesbian service members.”
But, Johnson said, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), hinders that effort.
“We must follow current law, including the Defense of Marriage Act,” Johnson said. “Though the Justice Department has said it will not defend the constitutionality of DOMA in court, until final resolution of that issue, adherence to the law is basic to the military and central to our efforts.”
The Defense of Marriage Act is a law, enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1996, which states that for all federal purposes marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman. It also says that no state is required to legally recognize a same-sex marriage recognized in another state.