Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), the law that previously prohibited gay and lesbian members of the military from serving in the armed forces unless they kept their sexual orientation a secret from their colleagues.
For the first time in our nation's history, all qualified and loyal service members are free to serve their country - no matter their sexual orientation. Now that a deeply flawed law like DADT has been cast into the dustbin of history and the best military the world has ever known has grown even stronger, it's worth reflecting on.
During our fight to repeal DADT, opponents said that allowing open service would harm unit cohesion, especially among combat troops. They said repealing DADT would put our troops in danger and weaken our national security. And they claimed that open service could lead to tens of thousands of heterosexual service members leaving the military.
I am proud to say they were wrong on all counts.
In fact, a recent study found that the end of DADT has had no negative impacts on unit cohesion and national security - just as I predicted. The members of our armed forces have proven that sexual orientation does not determine one's bravery, strength and allegiance to our nation.
Repealing DADT was the right decision for our military and our country. Not because the naysayers' doomsday warnings didn't come true, but because the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who serve openly today are the same troops they were a year ago. Only now, they don't have to fear being outed and fired from the jobs they love - serving their country. The late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, a WWII veteran and staunch conservative, famously said, "You don't have to be straight to shoot straight." And he's been proven right time and time again.
In 2010, Mark Udall spoke with three former service members who were discharged under DADT
Although we have made tremendous progress over the past year, the last chapter of this story is yet to be written. The pursuit of freedom and equality is what sets America apart from other nations, and those qualities must continue to be reflected in our armed forces, just as they are in civilian life.
Earlier this year, I joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) in urging the U.S. Department of Defense to streamline its process for correcting the records of veterans discharged under DADT. We are working to have their discharge documents changed to reflect the quality of their service rather than allowing the impacts of a discriminatory policy to follow them as they seek civilian employment.
As we enter our second year free from DADT, I salute all our patriots who have served so bravely to keep our country safe. When it comes to defending our country, they know better than anyone that honor, integrity and courage are what truly matters.