Thank you Amanda Simpson, for that kind introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, leaders of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community, DoD leaders, and distinguished guests.
On behalf of Secretary Hagel, who is traveling overseas today, I want to welcome you to the Pentagon this fine June day as all here and the entire Department of Defense joins the nation in celebrating LGBT Pride Month.
This ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the importance of diversity within the Department and the values that make our Department strong – integrity, courage, dedication, and respect.
For far too long, gay and lesbian service members and their partners and families were forced by law to compromise these values – to choose between serving the country they love and being true to themselves.
Today, we celebrate that that chapter in our nation’s history is now over… and increasingly forgotten. Indeed, because of the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, we can all proudly acknowledge that DoD and the nation depend every day on the work of gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilians.
As we recognize their achievements, contributions, and professionalism, we proudly recognize that they are an integral part of our armed forces.
As Secretary Hagel said at the signing ceremony for the Human Goals Charter in April, what matters is an individual’s patriotism… their willingness to serve their country… and their qualifications to do so – and that’s all that ever should.
Our All-Volunteer Force is stronger because of the diversity and the culture of inclusion we celebrate this month. The United States military is the finest in the world—not primarily because of our platforms and technology, but because of our people.
They are the heart and soul of the force – a force that is at its best when it reflects the diversity of the nation we all proudly serve.
To understand that, you need look no further than the men and women in this room. Their ranks include Brigadier General Tammy Smith, the first openly gay General Officer in the United States military. And Amanda Simpson, the highest ranking transgendered civilian appointment in the Department.
I want to thank you both for your determination, your patriotism, and your dedication to serving your country, and for representing all DoD LGBT members.
I have also had the privilege to work with Eric Fanning, who served with distinction as my deputy when I was Under-Secretary of the Navy, and who is now our Under-Secretary of the Air Force. I know Eric wanted to be here with us today, but was unable to attend.
I think back to my own 27 years in the Marine Corps. Back then, if it was discovered you were gay or lesbian, you would have been ostracized and made to feel incapable and unworthy of serving our nation. I think we all know some of the many phenomenal service members separated from the military because they were tired of “living a lie.” We’ve worked hard to fix this... to re-instill trust, faith, dignity and respect in our system... and while we have made some significant progress, we still have hurdles to clear.
We must therefore continue to work every day to ensure DoD is a model of equal opportunity and fair treatment, for our troops, for our civilian employees, and for their loved ones.
That is a top priority for the Secretary, me, and the Department’s senior leadership. Because if there is anything we have learned since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it is that the predictions by some that our force would be weakened could not have been farther from the truth. Instead, we have seen our military continue to gain strength and skill from its rich diversity.
Indeed, I believe the hurdles are growing ever steadily smaller, as openly LGBT members have proven both their great worth, and that they should be judged primarily on their capabilities.
We also are intent on continuing to do everything to remove any barriers to equality for the families and partners of our LGBT members. We lean heavily on our military families. They provide each of us with so much support, love, and care. And they have borne a heavy burden over the last 13 years of war.
As we honor the service and sacrifices of our gay and lesbian service members, we must do the same with their spouses – men and women who have quietly stood by and supported their loved ones during this long period of war.
Accordingly, last year, after the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the Defense of Aarriage Act as applied to the Federal Government, the Department began changing our policies and practices to grant same-sex spouses additional benefits, and ensure fairness and equal treatment for all service members and their families, to the extent allowable under law.
In a similar vein, this past October, Secretary Hagel directed the chief of the National Guard Bureau to work with the states to fully implement DoD policy by providing identification cards to all eligible military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation. Within two months of his directive being issued, all eligible service members, dependents and retirees – including same-sex spouses – were able to obtain ID cards in every state. And the Department will continue to work to ensure our men and women in uniform, as well as their families, have full and equal access to the benefits they deserve, whether they are posted here in the United States or overseas.
We did this because we believe that everyone who serves their country, as well as their families, should receive all the benefits they deserve and have earned in accordance with the law. We did this because it was the right thing to do.
Perhaps U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said it best in his recent ruling that Oregon’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, when he wrote that at times it may be difficult to see past the shrillness of the debate surrounding same sex marriage. But that if we can for a moment ignore the “barking crowds,” that if “we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families.”
Upholding the individual liberties, dignity and worth of every American is the bedrock principle upon which our nation was founded. Generations of American troops, including gays and lesbians, have fought and died to preserve that principle. I am proud to be part of a Department of Defense that is committed to upholding those ideals.