Senate confirms openly gay Army chief, five years after 'don't ask, don't tell'

Eric Fanning's confirmation sailed through the Senate after Sen. Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas withdrew objections that had stalled the process for months.

Susan Walsh/AP/File
Army Secretary Eric Fanning testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in January.

Eric Fanning was unanimously confirmed as secretary of the Army by the Senate on Tuesday, making him the first openly gay leader in the United States military.

Secretary Fanning's confirmation marks a noted departure from the military's previously enforced "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, repealed in 2011, which barred openly gay people from enlisting in the military and protected closeted service members from discrimination, while prohibiting them to reveal their orientation.

Fanning, the former chief of staff to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and undersecretary of the Air Force, was approved after eight months of holdup, led by Sen. Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas. Senator Roberts, while not opposed to Fanning's promotion, used the nomination as leverage to underscore his opposition to the potential transfer of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detainees to his home state of Kansas.

Roberts said that Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work had told him it was too late for the Obama administration to begin a prisoner transfer effort, prompting him to rescind his objection to Fanning's nomination. Deputy Secretary Work had encouraged the senator to withdraw his objection.

"I welcome the US Senate's vote to confirm Eric Fanning as Army Secretary, following Senator Pat Robert's decision to lift his hold on the nomination," Work said in a statement. "As I told Senator Roberts, his hold was depriving the Army of leadership at a time of war and was the wrong way to express his opposition to the administration's plan for responsibly closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay."

In a Tuesday statement, Secretary Carter expressed his support for Fanning and his new position.

"Eric is one of our country's most knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced defense officials and I am confident he will make an exceptional Secretary," Carter said. "Eric's experienced leadership will be an invaluable asset to the Army at this important moment."

Material from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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