BALTIMORE (WJZ) — For the first time, service members can be openly gay in uniform.

Kai Jackson has more on the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

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Gay and lesbian service members say this day is long overdue, yet they also say serving their country remains the priority, not a new policy.

It was designed to overlook sexual orientation in the military. Don’t ask if someone is gay or lesbian; don’t tell anyone if you are.

Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says that policy is over.

“These are men and women who put their lives on the line in the defense of this country and that’s what should matter the most,” Panetta said.

Critics charge the policy initiated during the Clinton administration never really worked and that many gay and lesbian service members were singled out and punished.

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During the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy years, 13,000 service men and women were discharged for being gay.

“We’re not exactly sure how it will impact our recruiting,” said Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, Maryland National Guard.

Frank McNeil is a 1983 Naval Academy graduate who now lives in Baltimore. He retired from the Marines as a major and he’s also gay. Silence was how he defended himself being gay at the academy. He says he’s glad young people in the military now have other options.

“The idea again is now they can serve with honor. They won’t have to worry about losing their jobs,” McNeil said.

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It’s estimated there are more than 50,000 members of the military who are gay.