WASHINGTON -- A Senate committee voted unanimously Thursday to confirm Eric Fanning as the next Secretary of the Army.
His nomination now heads to the full Senate, where, if he's confirmed, he'll become the first openly gay person to hold the top military post.
Fanning, who was nominated last September, has served in several senior positions at the Defense Department, and had been filling in as acting Army Secretary since November, when then-Secretary John McHugh stepped down. He pulled out of his acting role in January, though, as some on the Senate Armed Services Committee didn't like that he was serving in that capacity while waiting to be confirmed.
It's a sign of progress that his nomination is moving at all given that he's been waiting for six months for a vote, and given Republicans' overall blockade of President Barack Obama's nominees. But he's still got another hurdle to clear: Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), who has placed a "hold" on his nomination to protest the president's plans to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. A single senator can block a nominee by placing a hold on them, so until Roberts lifts his, Fanning isn't going anywhere.
A Roberts spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that the senator's hold remains.
Still, LGBT rights groups celebrated Fanning's advancement.
"We are thrilled to see Eric Fanning confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, a national network for the partners of LGBT troops and veterans.
"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 more than qualifies him to serve as secretary of the Army," she said. "We urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm his appointment."
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, also celebrated.
"This is truly a groundbreaking achievement for the LGBT community and a monumental step forward for our military," Maloney said. "Not only is Eric the most qualified, but he will ensure all our service members are treated equal regardless of who they are or who they love."
Update: This story has been updated to include comment from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).