Don't Ask, Don't Tell: a Promise (Eventually) Kept

Pledge-O-MeterABC News: Maayan Rosenzweig

The fourth in a series of articles examining the campaign promises Barack Obama made in 2008 and where they stand now. Previous installments have discussed Guantanamo found HERE and Cap and Trade found HERE.

You can normally tell how proud a president is of his accomplishments by the number of times he mentions them in campaign speeches.

Under that criterion, repealing the ban on gays in the military is one of President Obama's proudest promises kept.

But it wasn't a smooth path to checking that box on a lengthy list of campaign promises.

In 2008, Obama promised to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars gays from serving in the military, a rule that gay rights activists have long said is discriminatory. Obama said he would consult Pentagon brass and lawmakers to end the law, keeping in mind that Bill Clinton tried to do just that in 1993 but failed because of Republicans' opposition.

When Obama was sworn in, rights advocates expecting swift action were let down.

Turning to an old Washington scapegoat, Obama commissioned a study on the rule that he had long opposed. The military did some work and Defense Secretary Robert Gates eventually told Congress that the law wasn't working so well. Notably, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen said in late 2010 that "don't ask, don't tell" should be ended.

Still Obama lagged behind. Yes, Congress got in the way — the GOP blocked a bill that would have done away with the policy. But Obama himself didn't curry much favor with gays by appealing a ruling that said the law was unconstitutional. Obama's argument was that he wanted to work with Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" rather than change the policy via court order.

Finally, a year ago, in July, Obama formally announced that the policy would end, after the Pentagon spent lots of time studying how it should be curbed. Obama said that after a 60-day period, gays would be allowed to serve openly in the military.

On that day, Sept. 20, rights activists celebrated and Obama's reelection campaign happily proclaimed that the long-awaited decision was a "policy promise kept" and a "personal promise kept."

Now, as Obama pitches for another four years in the White House, the "don't ask" repeal is a staple of his stump speech. In his most recent speech, for example, on Thursday, Obama said:

"We're not going to go backwards when it comes to telling outstanding service members that they can't serve this country they love just because of who they love. We ended 'don't ask, don't tell.' It was the right thing to do."