After a months-long delay, the Senate confirmed Eric Fanning as the new secretary of the Army, making him the first openly gay person to be appointed to the position.
Fanning’s confirmation came eight months after he was originally nominated by President Barack Obama, but the hold to confirm Fanning purportedly had nothing to do with his sexuality. Rather, the stall, which came from a hold made by Kansas senator Pat Roberts, was used as leverage against the White House’s efforts to close Guantanamo Bay and move all current detainees to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Roberts opposed Fanning’s nomination as recently as last month, but made sure to note that it had nothing to do with his credentials.
“Let me be very clear on this—as a veteran, a Marine—I support Mr. Eric Fanning for this post,” Roberts then said on the Senate floor. “If the White House calls and assures me that terrorists held at Guantanamo will not come to Ft. Leavenworth, I will release the hold—immediately.”
“My issue has never been with Mr. Fanning’s character, his courage or his capability,” Roberts added. “He will be a tremendous leader.”
The delay was also reportedly due to Senator John McCain,who also serves as chair for the Armed Services Committee. In January, McCain cited his displeasure at Fanning, who was then serving as acting Army secretary during his pending confirmation, was allowed to do so. Other senators followed suit, and questioned whether it was in violation of federal law.
In response, Fanning resigned from the position—a temporary resignation, in light of his recent confirmation—and reassigned him to a staff position during the interim.
On Tuesday, Roberts released his hold on Fanning, stating he had received the “assurances” he needed from the Obama administration.
After the appointment, leaders of the LGBT community expressed their joy over the milestone.
“Eric’s sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on his ability to do this job; nor was it the reason for his nomination,” said Matt Thorn the executive director of the LGBT military advocacy group OutServe-SLDN. “But this milestone of having an openly gay individual in this high level position within the Department of Defense will help to continue to set a tone of understanding and respect for the LGBT community throughout the armed services.”
In addition to serving as acting Army undersecretary during the kerfuffle over his confirmation, Fanning’s previous positions include undersecretary of the Air Force and special assistant to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
Fanning’s nomination comes five years after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), a measure which prohibited members of the LGBT community from openly serving in the military.
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