The U.S. Navy's newest destroyer, USS Spruance, was officially commissioned last night at a Key West ceremony in Key West that left no doubt about how many top military commanders feel about gay soldiers or sailors.
They don't really care. And they're happy they don't have to deal with Don't Ask Don't Tell anymore.
"The promise from Navy leadership in this meritocracyIs that ANY Sailor, regardless of background, race, gender,or sexual preference, has the opportunity to go as far asthey can in this great Navy based on their work ethic, intelligence, aptitude, and commitment," Commander Tate Westbrook, said in his speech during the ceremony.
Key West maritime artist David Harrison Wright, who painted an official watercolor of the Spruance, which will hang in the ship, alerted us to the comments.
"What the commander said was meaningful. After all these years, I couldn't believe I heard that at an official military ceremony," said Wright, a former charter sailboat captain who is also gay and attended the ceremony. "The fact he said it in Key West, of course, was even more meaningful."
Aside from being known as a gay-friendly paradise, the island's history is closely tied to the U.S. Navy, which established it as an official settlement in the 1820s to help stamp out pirates and control shipping between the Gulf and Atlantic. It was controlled by the Union throughout the Civil War and helped choke the South as part of what's known to historians as "Scott's Anaconda." It has an active Naval presence, in great part because it's closer to Cuba (90 miles) than Miami.
As the Spruance ceremony shows, Key West is still a crucial port for the military. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, who represents the Keys, was on hand and received a 19-gun salute. Incidentally, she has become the first Republican co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bans gay marriage. (More here on that)