Eric Fanning has become the first openly gay person to head a U.S. military service branch. Eight months after President Barack Obama nominated him for Army secretary, the Senate confirmed Fanning for the position.
The president nominated Fanning on Sept. 18, 2015. Fanning had previously served as the special assistant of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, acting secretary of the Air Force and the deputy undersecretary of the Navy, according to NPR.
“Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Obama said when he selected Fanning. “I am grateful for his commitment to our men and women in uniform, and I am confident he will help lead America’s soldiers with distinction.”
The president concluded: “I look forward to working with Eric to keep our Army the very best in the world.”
Fanning was not immediately confirmed for the position, serving as acting Army secretary from November 2015 to January 2016. Since then, he has been awaiting his confirmation from the Senate, according to The Washington Post.
Despite approval from the Senate armed services committee, Fanning’s confirmation had been stalled when Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas placed a hold on having any floor vote on the matter.
“I want to make it very clear, as a veteran, a Marine, I support the nominee for this post,” Roberts said. “My hold on Eric Fanning’s nomination is not in relation to his capabilities, his expertise or character.”
Instead, the Kansas senator was blocking Fanning’s nomination in protest to the possibility of the Obama administration relocating prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison to the U.S. mainland.
Roberts’ protest was ridiculed by fellow Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who took to the Senate floor on Apr. 28 to blast the hold.
“What we’re doing here is telling a nominee, who is totally qualified, totally, eminently qualified for the job, that that person cannot fulfill those responsibilities and take on that very important leadership post because of an unrelated issue,” McCain said, according to the Military Times. “That is not an appropriate use of senatorial privilege.”
Roberts ultimately dropped his hold on having a Senate vote after a Pentagon official allegedly assured him that no Guantanamo Bay prisoners would be transferred to U.S. prisons, particularly Fort Leavenworth, a facility based in his home state of Kansas.
Fanning was confirmed on May 17. The Army secretary has been out since 1993, long before the U.S. military accepted people who were openly gay.