President Barack Obama yesterday hailed the end of the policy banning gays from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces, as the Pentagon vowed “zero tolerance” for harassment of homosexuals in the military.

“Today, the discriminatory law known as ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is finally and formally repealed,” Obama said in a statement. “As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love.”

The repeal went into effect yesterday, ushering in a new era in the U.S. armed forces. The law had allowed gay men and women to serve in the military only if they kept their sexual orientation a secret. They faced the threat of being kicked out of the military if they were open about their homosexuality.

Obama last December signed legislation to repeal the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which had been passed by Congress and signed into law in 1993 under then-President Bill Clinton.

 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made it clear that the U.S. military would not tolerate mistreatment of gays in the ranks.

“This is a historic day for the Pentagon and for the nation,” he said. “We have a zero tolerance with regards to harassment,” Panetta told a Pentagon briefing.

Gay rights groups for years denounced the law and called its end a important milestone in the fight against anti-gay discrimination. Some have compared its demise to the integration of the U.S. armed forces.

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