The former U.S. senator whom President Obama is reportedly considering for defense secretary on Friday apologized for using anti-gay remarks 14 years ago to describe a gay nominee for U.S. ambassador.
In a statement, received by the Washington Post and other media outlets, Chuck Hagel responded to comments that he reportedly made in 1998 about then-nominee for U.S. ambassador Jim Hormel, now a San Francisco-based philanthropist, in addition to expressing a newfound commitment to LGBT rights.
“My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” Hagel was quoted as saying Friday. “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”
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The comments about Hormel, published in 1998 by the Omaha World-Herald, came to light in recent days amid questions about whether Hagel would support LGBT service members as defense secretary. At the time, Hagel reportedly denigrated Hormel for being “openly aggressively gay.”
“Ambassadorial posts are sensitive,” Hagel was quoted as saying at the time. ”They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”
Representing the conservative state of Nebraska as U.S. senator from 1997 to 2009, Hagel was known for his opposition to LGBT rights, from 2001 to 2006, Hagel consistently scored a “0″ on the Human Rights Campaign’s scorecards between 2001 and 2006.
In 1999, he voiced opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, telling the New York Times, ”The U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment.” Hagel voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.
Hagel’s record in the Senate was troublesome to LGBT rights supporters, who are pushing the Pentagon to grant additional partner benefits to gay service members — such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — through administrative changes as well as the implementation of open service by transgender people.