While opposition to former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel’s prospective nomination as secretary of defense has, until recently, focused primarily on his views on the Middle East — Israel and Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah — a 1998 remark by the former senator is drawing gay-rights groups into the fight, too.
It was that year that Hagel opposed the nomination of philanthropist James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. “Ambassadorial posts are sensitive,” Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald. ”They are representing America,” he said. “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.”
The country’s largest gay-rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, earlier today called Hagel’s remarks “unacceptable.” Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for the HRC, acknowledged that “we do not know . . . how [Hagel's] views have evolved over time” but said the group “look[s] forward to hearing from Senator Hagel on these issues should he be nominated.”
Regarding Hagel’s stated opposition to the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Cole-Schwartz said, ”It is critically important that the new Secretary of Defense is supportive of open service, lesbian and gay military families, and the community as a whole. Whomever is selected to be the next Secretary of Defense needs to understand there are clear expectations for progress at DOD and that the President’s views on key issues should be reflected by the Secretary.”
Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, told the New York Times in 1999, “The U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment.”