When Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan Mills woke up Tuesday, he posted a pointed message on his Facebook page about the secret he has kept since he joined the military seven years ago.
"I. Am. Gay. That is all … as you were," he wrote.
Thus did Mills, 27, mark a historic milestone — the day America's ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military ended.
"When I woke up this morning, I felt extremely relieved and very free," said Mills, who is stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. "Free to be able to live openly without worrying what I say or do will affect my career."
After years of bitter debate, and generations of military tradition, repeal of the 18-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" law went into effect at 12:01 a.m. For the first time, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were free to declare their sexual orientation without risking being thrown out of the military. And many rushed to do so.
The result, for supporters at least, was an outpouring of euphoria and relief that some compared to the end of racial segregation in the military in the 1950s, or the admittance of women to the service academies in the 1970s. Supporters planned celebrations in all 50 states. Here's a look at how some people marked the day.
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At one minute after midnight Tuesday, the head of Pentagon personnel policies issued a memo to the work force. "All service members are to treat one another with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation," the memo from Clifford Stanley said.
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A U.S. service member, who said he is serving in Germany, posted a video of himself on YouTube calling his father in Alabama to tell him for the first time that he is gay.
"Can I tell you something? Will you love me, serious?" asks the service member, who uses the moniker "areyousurprised" on Twitter and Facebook.
"Dad, I'm gay," the service member says, his voice dropping. "I always have been, I've known since forever, and uh, I know I haven't seen you in like a year, and I don't know when's the next time I'm going to be able to see you, I didn't want to tell you over the phone, I wanted to tell you in person."
The man asks his father several times, "Do you still love me?''
The father assures him each time that he does. At one point he says, "Yes, I still love you and I always will, no matter what. You're still my son and I'm very proud of you. …This doesn't change our relationship.''
The service member says in the video that he waited for more than four hours before deciding to call his father with the news. Near the end of the video, he smiles and says he still needs to tell his mother. (You can view the video at links.tampabay.com.)
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At exactly midnight, Justice of the Peace Greg Trulson proclaimed the marriage of Navy Lt. Gary Ross and his partner Dan Swezy.
The two men, who have been together 11 years, decided to marry in Vermont in part because the state is in the Eastern time zone. That way, they were able to recite their vows at the first possible moment after the ban ended.
"I think it was a beautiful ceremony. The emotions really hit me … but it's finally official," Ross said early Tuesday.
Ross, 33, and Swezy, a 49-year-old civilian, traveled from their home in Tucson, Ariz. Ross wore his dress uniform for the double-ring ceremony at Duxbury's Moose Meadow Lodge, a log cabin bed-and-breakfast perched on a hillside about 15 miles northwest of Montpelier.
"This is Gary's official coming out," Trulson said.
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"It's a huge burden lifted off from my shoulders and the 65,000 other gay and lesbian bisexual troops out there serving in the military right now," Air Force Lt. Josh Seefried told a news conference at the U.S. Capitol with senators who sponsored repeal of the law. "Today and every day I can go back into work … and not have to worry anymore."
It was the first time that Seefried, who has used the pseudonym J.D. Smith to secretly run a support group for gays in the military, had identified himself as gay in public. He was joined by a Marine captain and an Air Force staff sergeant who also came out for the first time.
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At a Pentagon new conference, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pledged not to allow other issues of equal opportunity, such as allowing women to serve in combat roles, to be ignored or set aside.
"I am committed to removing all of the barriers that would prevent Americans from serving their country and from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant," Panetta said. "These are men and women who put their lives on the line in the defense of this country, and that's what should matter the most."
Appearing with Panetta for what was probably his final news Pentagon conference as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retiring Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said that with the new law allowing gays to serve openly, the military is a stronger, more tolerant force with greater character and honor.
"I still believe that it was first and foremost a matter of integrity, that it was fundamentally against everything we stand for as an institution to force people to lie about who they are just to wear a uniform," Mullen said. "We are better than that."
Some in Congress still oppose the change, arguing that it may undermine order and discipline, but top Pentagon leaders have certified that it will not hurt the military's ability to recruit or to fight wars.
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Army Lt. Col. Michael D. Jason posted on his Facebook page: " 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' repealed today. The American citizen has asked some of us to fight for them. We volunteered. Now, as proclaimed by law, stay out of my Soldiers' bedrooms. About time."
Information from McClatchy-Tribune, New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.