By SAM HANANEL
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 15, 2007; 11:02 PM
WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback is backing the Pentagon's top general over his remarks that homosexual acts are immoral. The Kansas senator planned to send a letter on Thursday to President Bush supporting Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who earlier this week likened homosexuality to adultery and said the military should not condone it by allowing gay personnel to serve openly.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs also said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune: "I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well-served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way."
Lawmakers of both parties criticized the remarks, but Brownback's letter called the criticism "both unfair and unfortunate."
"We should not expect someone as qualified, accomplished and articulate as General Pace to lack personal views on important moral issues," Brownback said. "In fact, we should expect that anyone entrusted with such great responsibility will have strong moral views."
Asked whether he agreed with Pace's comments, Brownback said: "I do not believe being a homosexual is immoral, but I do believe homosexual acts are. I'm a Catholic and the church has clear teachings on this."
Democratic candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama initially tried to sidestep the issue when asked about it this week, but both sought to clarify their opposition to Pace's comments on Thursday.
Obama did not directly answer on Wednesday when asked if same-sex relationships were immoral, Newsday reported. Obama issued a statement on Thursday, saying, "I do not agree with General Pace that homosexuality is immoral. Attempts to divide people like this have consumed too much of our politics over the past six years."
Clinton told ABC News Wednesday that it's for "others to conclude" whether homosexuality is immoral. On Thursday, she put out a statement saying that she'd heard from gay friends who said her answer sounded evasive.
"I should have echoed my colleague Senator John Warner's statement forcefully stating that homosexuality is not immoral because that is what I believe," her statement said.
Meanwhile, Democratic hopeful Bill Richardson called Pace's remarks "unfortunate" and said the Bush administration should reject them, adding that he would push Congress to repeal military's "don't ask, don't tell policy" in which gay service members are required to keep their sexual orientation private.
"People should not be judged based on their sexual orientation," the New Mexico Governor said in Santa Fe. "Throughout my entire career I have fought for equal rights and against discrimination of any kind."
While there is no indication that Pace's job is in jeopardy, Brownback's letter to Bush said "personal moral beliefs" should not disqualify anyone from a position of leadership in the U.S. military.
"General Pace's recent remarks do not deserve the criticism they have received," the letter said. "In fact, we applaud General Pace for maintaining a personal commitment to moral principles."
Pace said he supports "don't ask, don't tell," something Brownback said is "an appropriate policy."
Brownback, a favorite of the religious right, has been a prominent opponent of gay marriage.
Brownback spokesman Brian Hart said the senator was working Thursday to get other lawmakers to sign his letter. Hart said Brownback's office would not disclose who has signed on to the letter until there is "a final count."
On his campaign bus in Iowa on Thursday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., declined to comment when asked whether he agreed with Gen. Peter Pace's comment that homosexuality was immoral. He said he still backs the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. "It's working."
Another Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been criticized for changing his views on gay rights to conform with conservative views, said he thought Pace's comments were "inappropriate for public discourse."
"He can believe what he wants to, that's the great thing about America _ believe in what you want. But in a governmental setting, the right way to go is to show more of an outpouring of tolerance," Romney said on CNN's "Larry King Live."
He said he didn't think the "don't ask, don't tell policy" made a lot of sense, but added he wouldn't change it now.