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As Obama Signs DADT Repeal, Activists Argue Over Next Steps

By L.K. Regan

President Obama signed a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on Wednesday, bringing to a close 17 years of legal persecution of gays in the military. But even as the ink dries there are wild differences of opinion for going forward, from conservatives who actually hope to repeal the repeal, to gay rights activists who insist there should be no delay in implementation.

President Obama smiled widely on Wednesday as he signed the repeal of DADT that surprised many by passing the Senate last weekend. In remarks accompanying the signing, Obama said, "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." And, he referred to what had been to many the basic grounds for repealing DADT: that it forced a service based on honor to tell outright lies. "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." He said. "This is a good day.... This is a very good day."

So now what? White House spokesman Barry Gibbs told reporters that implementation of the repeal would be "a matter of months," and President Obama said that, "We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done." Still, the law awaits certification and a subsequent 60-day waiting period, during which the Pentagon will make plans for adapting a range of practices, from sexual harassment training to barracks assignments. Even so, the Palm Center, which studies the intersection between gender, sexuality and the military, has issued a study suggesting that there is no substantive reason not to simply end the policy immediately. "When you read the Pentagon’s 87-page implementation plan, you see that the transition requirements can be boiled down to just two things: strong leadership and simple rules," said Palm Center director Aaron Belkin in a press statement. "This really isn’t rocket science.”

Even if there is a delay in implementation, the momentum of excitement behind the DADT repeal seems unstoppable. Yet the anti-gay group the Liberty Counsel has threatened to try to repeal the repeal and reinstate DADT in the next congress. "This action will be overturned in the next Congress because it breaks the bond of trust that must exist between the military and those who oversee the armed forces in the Pentagon and Congress," they said in a statement. The Family Research Council, another conservative Christian organization, has claimed that Senator John McCain (R - Ariz.), who fervently fought the repeal, has offered to help them reverse it by closely evaluating, and challenging, its implementation.

Good luck with that. Even McCain seems to accept that what's done is done; a source of his has denied the Family Research Council's claim. And repeal is so popular that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D - Nev.) immediately tweeted news of his success to Lady Gaga (with whom he has carried on a lively Twitter back-and-forth over the fate of DADT). "We did it!" he tweeted, "DADT is a thing of the past."

As President Obama signed the repeal in a ceremony on Wednesday, the entire room lost control and whooped, shouted, hollered and generally offered their appreciation to a clearly joyful president. Watch the historic signing for yourself: