President Obama has nominated Eric Fanning, an out gay man, to lead the Army on Friday. If confirmed, Fanning would be the first out gay civilian to lead a military branch.
Fanning, 47, is no stranger to tackling defense issues. He has served as acting undersecretary of the Army since June and before that served as Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s chief of staff. Other previous appointments include undersecretary of the Air Force and acting secretary of the Air Force.
He got his start in public service with the Committee on Armed Services in the U.S. House of Representatives and later in various capacities in the Clinton White House.
Carter had only praise for Fanning in a statement.
“I want to congratulate Eric Fanning for his nomination to be the next secretary of the Army. President Obama has made an excellent choice, and I hope for a quick Senate confirmation,” Carter said. “Eric served as my first chief of staff at the Pentagon, and it has been a privilege over the course of my career to work alongside him and watch him develop into one of our country’s most knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced public servants. I know he will strengthen our Army, build on its best traditions, and prepare our ground forces to confront a new generation of challenges.”
Fanning’s nomination comes at a pivotal time for the armed services. Congress repealed the Clinton-era policy barring openly gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and most recently announced the possibility of allowing openly transgender troops as well.
National LGBT rights groups praised the nomination.
“Eric Fanning is the perfect choice to lead the world’s best-trained, most dedicated, and formidable Army,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Considering the tremendous struggles that LGBT Americans have faced within the Department of Defense, Fanning’s nomination is deeply significant. This is a sign of hope and a demonstration of continued progress towards fairness and equality in our nation’s armed forces. We urge the Senate to quickly confirm this remarkably experienced candidate to this important post.”
Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partners Association said Fanning, if confirmed, would provide an important perspective on LGBT issues.
“We are thrilled to see Eric Fanning nominated to lead the world’s greatest Army,” she said in a statement. “History continues to be written and equality marches forward with the nomination of an openly gay man to serve in this significantly important role. Fanning’s expertise and knowledge within the defense community together with his sensitivity to issues faced by LGBT service members and their families is why we urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm his appointment.”
Not everyone was happy about the announcement.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee blasted the announcement in a statement, calling Fanning’s nomination overtly political.
“It’s clear President Obama is more interested in appeasing homosexuals than protecting American heroes,” Huckabee said. “Veteran suicide is out-of-control and military readiness is dangerously low, yet Obama is so obsessed with pandering to liberal interest groups he’s nominated an openly gay civilian to run the Army. Homosexuality is not a job qualification. The U.S. military is designed to keep Americans safe and complete combat missions, not conduct social experiments.”
Matt Thorn, interim executive director of OutServe-SLDN, called Huckabee’s statement irresponsible.
“It is unbecoming of a presidential candidate to attack someone on a personal basis like this. I do agree with Mr. Huckabee that sexual orientation isn’t a job qualification and Eric is not being nominated because he is gay, he is being nominated for his extensive 25-plus year career within the Department of Defense and the knowledge that he possess about military policy,” he said.
A hearing on Fanning’s nomination has not been set.