DUXBURY, Vt. (AP) — Just as the formal repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy took effect, Navy Lt. Gary Ross and his partner were married before a small group of family and friends.
The two men, who'd 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 stroke of midnight — 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," Lt. Ross said early Tuesday.
Hours before the change, the American military was also making final preparations for the historic policy shift. The Pentagon announced that it was already accepting applications from openly gay candidates, although officials said they would wait a day before reviewing them.
Lt. Ross, 33, and Dan Swezy, a 49-year-old civilian, traveled from their home in Tucson, Ariz., so they could get married in Vermont, the first state to allow gays to enter into civil unions and one of six that have legalized same-sex marriage.
Lt. Ross wore his dress uniform for the double-ring ceremony that began at 11:45 p.m. Monday at Duxbury's Moose Meadow Lodge, a log cabin bed-and-breakfast perched on a hillside about 15 miles northwest of Montpelier. The lodge says it hosted the state's first gay wedding in 2009.
Justice of the Peace Greg Trulson proclaimed the marriage at exactly midnight.
"This is Gary's official coming out," Mr. Trulson said.
Lt. Ross and Mr. Swezy were joined by close friends and some family members who shared champagne and congratulations with them after the ceremony.
Lt. Ross said he plans to have a full career in the military. "We're thrilled the policy is gone," he said of his and Mr. Swezy's reaction to the end of "don't ask, don't tell."
Pentagon press secretary George Little said Monday that the military is prepared for the end of "don't ask, don't tell," a practice adopted in 1993 that allowed gays to serve as long as they did not openly acknowledge their sexual orientation. Commanders were not allowed to ask.
Last week, the Pentagon said 97 percent of the military has undergone training in the new law.
In preparation for Tuesday's repeal, all branches of the military have spent several months updating regulations. Lifting the ban also brings a halt to all pending investigations, discharges and other proceedings that were begun under the old law.
President Obama signed the law in December and certified in July that lifting the ban will not diminish the military's ability to fight. Some in Congress remain opposed to repeal, arguing that it may undermine order and discipline.
Existing standards of personal conduct, such as those pertaining to public displays of affection, will continue regardless of sexual orientation.
There will be no immediate changes to eligibility for military benefits. All service members are already entitled to certain benefits, such as designating a partner as a life insurance beneficiary or as a caregiver in the Wounded Warrior program. But Mr. Swezy won't receive military health insurance or access to a support group when Lt. Ross is at sea.
Gay marriage is an even thornier issue. A Navy proposal to train chaplains to conduct same-sex civil unions in states where they are legal was shelved earlier this year after more than five dozen lawmakers objected. The Pentagon is reviewing the issue.
Lt. Ross, a 2002 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, is a surface warfare officer at the Army's Fort Huachuca. He expects to return to sea next spring.
He met Mr. Swezy in early 2000 while Lt. Ross was still an academy student. At the time, he didn't think through the personal implications of the military's ban on gay and lesbian service members serving openly. But as his relationship with Mr. Swezy grew, it became important.
Their Tucson home is about a two-hour commute from Fort Huachuca, which is near the Mexican border. Under "don't ask, don't tell," Lt. Ross could not talk about his relationship with Mr. Swezy, but he said some of his co-workers must have known.
"Anyone with any moderate perception could have figured it out," he said.
When he goes back to work Thursday, Lt. Ross isn't planning to advertise that he's married to a man.
"Even though the law goes away, it will still be the white elephant in the room until everyone comes to terms with it," he said.
Lt. Ross said the end of "don't ask, don't tell" will simplify many aspects of his life.
"It requires you to lie several times a day," Lt. Ross said of the old system. "Being in the military is extremely invasive. It becomes a web of excuses you make when you try to be as honest as possible, but you can't be honest."
He hopes being able to talk about his relationship will make his work easier, too.
"If you're standing watch at midnight on a surface ship, there's not much to talk about," he said. "It becomes very difficult to trust someone you can't be honest with."
Associated Press photographer Toby Talbot contributed to this report.