March 10, 2016 at 11:28 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Senate panel approves 1st openly gay military service leader

Eric Fanning, gay news, Washington Blade

A Senate committee has approved Eric Fanning as Army secretary. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A U.S. Senate committee moved Eric Fanning a step closer on Thursday to becoming the first openly gay civilian to lead a U.S. military service by approving his nomination as Army secretary.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over Fanning’s nomination, approved the nomination by voice vote nearly six months after President Obama announced his choice of Fanning as the next Army secretary.

The committee approves the nomination after it held a confirmation hearing for Fanning in January that went smoothly for the nominee. No member of the committee asked Fanning a question about his sexual orientation or objected to having an openly gay Army secretary.

Matthew Thorn, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, praised Fanning upon his news the panel approved his nomination, saying his “credentials for this position are unimpeachable.”

“He was nominated for his extensive 25 plus year career within the Department of Defense and the knowledge that he possess about military policy and national security,” Thorn said. “From his service as the deputy undersecretary and deputy chief management officer for the Department of the Navy, deputy director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation & Terrorism to most recently serving as the under secretary of the Air Force, acting U.S. Secretary of the Air Force and chief of staff to the secretary of defense his preparedness for this role could not be higher.”

Although the committee has approved the nomination, Fanning faces difficulties in obtaining confirmation by the full Senate. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) has placed a hold on the nomination, citing comments President Obama made about closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. A Roberts spokesperson told the Blade on Thursday the hold remains in place.

Thorn said OutServe-SLDN recently sent a letter and petition with over 680 signatories to Roberts regarding his hold. The LGBT military group, Thorn said, will work with Senate allies and continue to petition Roberts to schedule a confirmation vote for the nominee.

Thorn urged the full Senate to confirm Fanning as Army secretary “quickly,” adding, “We are far past the time for a confirmation vote.”

“Our service members are risking their lives to serve and protect our country and should be afforded the respect of having a secretary who will advocate for them, think about their needs and serve them the way that they serve our country,” Thorn concluded.

Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, said she’s “thrilled” to see the approval of Fanning’s nomination in committee and urged the full Senate to confirm him.

“History continues to be written and equality marches forward with the nomination of an openly gay man to serve in this significantly important role,” Broadway-Mack said. “Fanning’s expertise and knowledge within the defense community more than qualifies him to serve as Secretary of the Army. We urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm his appointment.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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