WASHINGTON, May 17 (UPI) -- The Senate on Tuesday evening confirmed the long-delayed nomination of the first openly gay Army secretary.
Eric Fanning, 47, becomes the first openly gay leader of any of the U.S. armed forces. His confirmation, five years after the repeal of the so-called "don't ask, don't tell," rule, was hailed by human rights groups
"Eric Fanning's historic confirmation today as secretary of the U.S. Army is a demonstration of the continued progress towards fairness and equality in our nation's armed forces," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement.
The confirmation vote took place after Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., dropped his opposition to the Barack Obama administration's efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and move some of the inmates to Roberts' state. The administration told Roberts they were no longer pursuing the idea of closure, and Roberts stopped his eight-month delay of the vote.
Fanning was named Air Force undersecretary in April 2013, and became acting secretary for several months while the confirmation of now-Secretary Deborah Lee James dragged on in Congress. He was also the Navy's deputy undersecretary, its deputy chief management officer and was briefly Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter's chief of staff last year. He was also briefly the acting Army secretary last summer.
Carter issued a statement Tuesday congratulating Fanning on his confirmation.
"Eric is one of our country's most knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced defense officials and I am confident he will make an exceptional secretary. Eric's experienced leadership will be an invaluable asset to the Army at this important moment. I appreciate his willingness to serve and his continued commitment to our men and women in uniform," he said.
The controversial "don't ask, don't tell," policy which had prohibited gay and lesbian service members from being open about their sexuality was begun under the Bill Clinton administration and ended by the Obama administration.