Former senator Chuck Hagel has issued a statement retracting his 1998 comments about a gay ambassadorial nominee.

Hagel's potential nomination to be President Obama's new defense secretary has come under fire due in part to his concerns, published during a debate over the nomination of James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg, that Hormel was "openly aggressively gay."

"My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive," Hagel said. "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.”

In response, Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization that previously deemed Hagel's comments "unacceptable," has now embraced the potential Obama administration nominee.

"Senator Hagel's apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues," HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. "Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we're proud that Senator Hagel is one of them." 

Here is the full story by Peter Wallsten and Scott Wilson on the criticism by gay activists.