The U.S. Senate late Tuesday unanimously confirmed Eric Fanning as Secretary of the Army, making him the highest-ranking openly gay official at the Pentagon and the first openly gay man to lead a branch of the U.S. military.
Fanning, 47, was nominated by President Barack Obama in September, and his confirmation comes five years after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that did not allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. (As a holder of civilian roles in the Defense Department, DADT did not necessarily apply to Fanning.)
“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,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement Tuesday night.
Fanning’s confirmation had been held up for eight months by Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas over his disagreement with the Obama administration regarding the moving of detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the U.S.
Roberts said on the Senate floor Tuesday that he had received the “assurances I needed to hear to lift my hold.”
“I’m honored by today’s Senate confirmation and thrilled to return to lead the total Army team,” Fanning said in a statement Tuesday night.
Fanning previously served as the Army secretary’s principal adviser on management and operation. He was undersecretary of the Air Force from April 2013 to February 2015, and for half a year he was the acting secretary of the Air Force.
In announcing his nomination in September, Obama cited Fanning’s long tenure in the Pentagon and his broad and deep experience with some of the Defense Department’s most complex programs as a key factor in his selection.