For Obbie Rodriguez of Columbia, the end of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy means he'll feel equal to others when he reports for duty in March.
Many Marylanders Tuesday, the official end of the 1993 law, said it was past time for the law to be relegated to the dustbin of history.
The Clinton-era law, seen as progressive at the time, allowed gays to serve in the military under the condition that they kept their sexual orientation private.
“Statements about sexual orientation will no longer be a bar to enlisting in the military or a cause for dismissal,” stated Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, chief of staff for the Pentagon’s repeal implementation team, in an article by the American Services Press Service.
For Rodriguez, who is to report to boot camp for the Marine Corps in March, the repeal has changed his life.
“At the beginning of last year I was actually interested in going into the military, but knowing that I couldn’t be out, and be who I was, I decided not to,” he explained as he exited the Columbia Mall.
However when Rodriguez heard the law would be coming to an end, he decided to re-examine his choices.
“It feels amazing that I can just go in there and be who I am instead of just hiding who I am…I feel equal.”
Others were similarly jubilant that the law had come to an end.
“I’m very much in favor of the repeal,” said Peggy Fitzpatrick of Ellicott City as she walked down Ellicott City’s Main Street. “I think it should have happened a long time ago.
"I see no reason why any group needs to be discriminated against, and certainly anyone willing to serve in our services should especially not be.”
In a phone interview, Catonsville resident and retired Army Sgt. Herbert Brown, 80, said he thought the repeal was “long overdue.”
“One’s sexuality was never a problem where I was concerned,” he said. Brown was an active service member from 1956-58. He said he knew gay service members and, "My attitude has always been that what you do behind closed doors is your business.”
In the lead up to the repeal, opponents of the policy rallied for the legislation to end, calling it a civil rights issue, while those in favor of the law cited safety, security and overall logistical concerns such as privacy issues should gays be allowed to serve openly.
Meanwhile, celebrations in honor of the law’s repeal were being held across the country.
David Bryan, a Bowie resident, said he favored the repeal but there was no need to make a fuss.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal; I mean it’s the 21st century,” he said as he exited the Columbia Mall. “I mean who cares. If you can fight, I don’t care. It’s your business.”
Others said the law wasn't so bad.
“Personally, I think [being gay] should be kept to themselves,” said Tony DiMaio of Eldersburg as he headed into the mall. “It’s a personal thing.”
Still others expressed concern about the repeal’s effect on safety within the military.
“I don’t know what to think about it,” said Columbia resident Luanna Thompson as she was leaving the Columbia Mall. “Those gay military members may be putting themselves in harm’s way…I’d be concerned if it were my son or daughter.”
Added William Sherman of Catonsville, “It’s really touchy…I think it’s great to have an open society…But as civilians we don’t know what goes on inside with the military personnel.”
Meanwhile, Maryland state officials released statements in support of the policy change.
“The end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is a proud moment in the history of our great nation," said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. "Finally, all those brave men and women who choose to serve their country can do so equally, openly and honestly.” Brown was a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and served in Iraq.
According to Lt. Col. Charles Kholer, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard, the nearly 6,500 guard members have gone through training in preparation for the repeal.
“We expect them to deal with it in a professional manner,” Kholer said.
“There hasn’t been any reaction from a command perspective,” he added. “We anticipate that it will be a smooth transition.”
Maj. Gen. James Adkins, the provost marshal for the Maryland Army National Guard, added, "I don’t forsee any issues with implementation with the removal of 'Don’t ask, Don’t tell' from our policies."
Adkins noted that the Department of Defense has been working on implementation since December.
"At this point we’re not anticipating any issues at all," he said. "Our leaders have all been briefed so I think we’re in pretty good shape... We are all set to go in Maryland on this and we'll just be alert to monitor what comes up."
According to a fact sheet released by the Department of Defense, while the repeal has led to some changes in operations, many have “required no change as they are sexual-orientation neutral.”
“It remains the policy of the DoD not to ask service members or applicants about their sexual orientation,” the fact sheet states.
In addition, there will be no creation of separate bathroom facilities or living quarters based on sexual orientation, and commanders may not establish practices that physically segregate service members according to sexual orientation.
Further, as part of the repeal, the military has stopped all pending investigations, discharges and administrative proceedings began solely under "don’t ask, don’t tell," while former service members discharged under the law can apply for re-entry to the armed services.