A year ago, Marine Capt. M. Matthew Phelps might have been relieved of his command in San Diego if the military found out he was gay. On Tuesday, he stood in a packed Pentagon auditorium and openly discussed his sexuality.

“I happen to be gay, but more importantly, I’m a Marine,” Phelps said as heads nodded and murmurs of approval swept through the standing-room-only crowd of several hundred people.

For the first time in its straight-laced history, the Pentagon thus celebrated “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month,” a stunning cultural milestone that officially recognizes what has always been true-that gays and lesbians serve inside its fortress-like walls and the rest of America’s armed forces.

The ceremony, which was broadcast on an internal TV network to U.S. military bases around the world, was sober and strict – from the rhythmic ‘hut, hut, hut” of the color guard marching into the auditorium, to pre-taped videos from President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and a panel discussion on “The Value of Open Service and Diversity.”

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