DUXBURY, Vt. — When Navy Lt. Gary Ross and his partner were searching for a place to get married, they settled on a site in Vermont, in part because the state is in the Eastern time zone.
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That way, the two men were able to recite their vows before family and friends at the first possible moment after the formal repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy . Just after midnight Tuesday, the partners of 11 years were married.
"I think it was a beautiful ceremony. The emotions really hit me...but it's finally official," Ross said.
Hours before the change took effect early Tuesday, 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.
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.
Ross wore his dress uniform for the ceremony beginning 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," Trulson said.
Ross and Swezy were joined by a small group of close friends and some family who shared champagne with them after the ceremony.
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 Barack Obama signed the law last December and in July certified 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.Timeline: Timeline of 'don't ask, don't tell' (on this page)
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 Swezy won't receive military health insurance or access to a support group when 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.Story: Military retiree benefits vulnerable as Congress struggles to cut debt
Ross, a 2002 graduate of the Naval Academy, is a surface warfare officer at the Army's Fort Huachuca. He expects to return to sea next spring.
He met Swezy in early 2000 while 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 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," Ross could not talk about his relationship with Swezy, but he said some of his co-workers must have known.
"Anyone with any moderate perception could have figured it out," he said.
'You can't be honest'
When he goes back to work Thursday, 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.
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," 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."
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