The Human Rights Campaign, a major gay rights organization, is firing a warning shot at former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, the Republican being considered by President Obama as a potential secretary of defense. In a statement, HRC president Chad Griffin called Hagel's past comments on gay people and positions on gay rights "unacceptable."
Hagel has earned the ire of gay rights groups for several reasons. In particular, he spoke ill of James Hormel when the gay philanthropist was nominated as ambassador to Luxembourg, and he endorsed the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy against gays serving openly in the military.
“Senator Hagel’s unacceptable comments about gay people, coupled with his consistent anti-LGBT record in Congress, raise serious questions about where he stands on LGBT equality today," Griffin said in a statement. "For him to be an appropriate candidate for any Administration post, he must repudiate his comments about Ambassador Hormel. Additionally, the next Secretary of Defense must be supportive of open service as well as equal benefits for lesbian and gay military families and Senator Hagel must address these issues immediately.”
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is also wary. Director of public policy and government affairs Stacy Long told GayCityNews that the group is "gravely concerned about his track record on civil rights and opposition to LGBT equality."
Ambassadors "are representing America," Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald in 1998. "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." He added of Hormel's open homosexuality and support of gay causes, "I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum." Clinton appointed Hormel, the first openly gay ambassador, during the 1999 congressional recess after Republicans refused to bring the nomination to the floor.
The senator was also a staunch defender of the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. "The U.S. armed forces aren't some social experiment," he told the New York Times in 1999.
Hagel earned a 0 percent rating from HRC for the 105th through 109th Congress. (He earned a 20 percent rating in the 110th Congress by voting for PEPFAR, The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief.)
On the other hand, in 2006 Hagel came out against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He said he would have voted to bring the amendment to the floor because it deserved an up or down vote, but that the issue should be left to the states. (The senator was in Nebraska at the time and did not vote.)
“I am opposed to gay marriage. That’s my personal position,” Hagel said at the time. But, he added, “I believe it is a state issue, and has always been in the history of our country.” He said he would reevaluate if the Supreme Court struck down a state ban on gay marriage.
Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who became an ardent critic of the war in Iraq, has also faced fire from the right. Conservatives are arguing that the former senator is insufficiently supportive of Israel, too willing to cut the defense budget and wrong in opposing sanctions on Iran.