WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thanked gay, lesbian and bisexual service members as part of the Pentagon's first-ever celebration of gay rights month.
"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," Panetta said in a video posted Friday on the Defense Department's Web site. "But together we form the greatest military force in the world."
Panetta said before the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law, "you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself."
Now, gay, lesbian and bisexual military personnel can be proud of not only serving their country, but also of who they are in uniform.
Panetta said anyone capable of serving should be able to do so.
"I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America's military a model of equal opportunity, to ensure all who are qualified can serve in America's military and to give every man and woman in uniform the opportunity to rise to their highest potential," he said.
Under the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law, gay, lesbian and bisexual military personnel were barred from disclosing their sexual orientation or be forced to leave the service. The ban was U.S. policy until Sept. 20, 2011.
Congress had repealed the policy in December 2010 but it remained in effect until a court challenge upheld the repeal.