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Eric Fanning was sworn in Wednesday as secretary of the Army, becoming the first openly gay leader of any U.S. military service.
His swearing in marked another historic moment both for the Obama administration, which has pushed for various gay and lesbian rights, and the groups that have long awaited such a moment.
The move comes five years after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which had prohibited gay and lesbian service members from being open about their sexuality.
"It has been a long process to get here, one that I don't think even the writers from 'House of Cards' could have scripted if they tried," Fanning said after the swearing in, calling his appointment "a tremendous honor."
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Fanning "embodies the kind of strong and steady leadership and civilian commitment to our men and women in uniform that have made our military the finest fighting force the world has ever known."
Fanning was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate after a protracted debate between the White House and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, who opposed administration efforts to close the prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer detainees to the United States. For eight months, Fanning waited as congressional lawmakers pleaded with Roberts to lift his hold. The Kansas lawmaker stood firm.
Roberts, however, dropped his opposition Tuesday after he said was privately reassured by the administration that the clock had run out on moving detainees to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Gay rights groups hailed Fanning's being named to the post.
"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," Chad Griffin president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.