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Politics Is Personal at Pentagon Pride Ceremony

United States Air Force(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Wednesday released a statement on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of DOMA, a law which had, in part, prevented the same-sex spouses of military members from receiving military benefits.

“The Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday on the Defense of Marriage Act,” the statement said. “The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses -- regardless of sexual orientation -- as soon as possible. That is now the law, and it is the right thing to do.”

On Tuesday, at the Pentagon’s second annual LGBT Pride event since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning and others spoke about the challenges of being gay in an institution that, until recently, would discharge members for being open about their sexuality.

Fanning, who is the highest ranking openly gay official at the Defense Department, spoke in more personal terms about the challenges of being gay at the Pentagon, particularly his first experiences in the building 20 years ago just as DADT was first being implemented.

“It was a difficult time, and it was a painful experience for me personally,” Fanning said. “It was a deeply conflicting time for me. I was working for an institution that discriminated against people just like me.”

With DADT no longer in place, Fanning said, “We are stronger for looking more like the society we are protecting.”

Speaking to an audience of military service members and Defense Department civilian employees, keynote speaker Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, said, “Many of you know the story of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell all too well. Not because you read about it somewhere or heard it in a speech, but because you lived it.”

The event, which came in the middle of LGBT Pride month, also featured remarks from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who spoke about how openness and honesty about oneself were key virtues in any leader.

On a lighter note, Fanning joked about his unique position as an openly gay man managing his new responsibilities as the highest ranking gay official in the department.

“Many have speculated as to my agenda. What color I’ll paint the planes. What designs I’ll have on the uniforms,” Fanning joked. “But the truth, of course, is that I’m focused on doing my job.”

Tying the historic repeal of DADT back to the Obama administration’s campaign promise of “hope and change,” Jarrett said, “Change is being able to put your family photo on your desk, just like everyone else.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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