President Obama hasn't even named Chuck Hagel his new Secretary of Defense yet — he just got around to nominating John Kerry — and already the former Nebraska Senator has taken a week of heat over controversial comments and positions from his past. First it was the "Jewish lobby" quote, then it was his managerial skills, and, you know, his foreign policy views. The latest storm centers on Hagel's calling another potential political appointee "aggressively gay" 15 years ago — criticism substantive enough that Hagel is now walking it back.
Here's what Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald in 1998 about the philanthropist James Hormel, who at the time was being considered for the American ambassadorship to Luxembourg:
“They are representing America,” Mr. Hagel said in an interview with The Omaha World-Herald. “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.”
And here's what Hagel said in a statement to Politico after the Human Rights Campaign and other gay-rights advocacy groups jumped on the resurfacing comments:
My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. 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.
The Human Rights Campaign has already accepted Hagel's apology. But his statement leaves a few unanswered questions. On gay marriage — what else would "civil rights" refer to, here? — Hagel has been cryptic. As the Times points out, he voted against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, citing the rights of states to decide.
And it's not like the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell was the end of gay issues in the U.S. military. Due to the Defense of Marriage Act, spouses of gay, married personnel don't receive the same benefits (like health insurance) as spouses of straight personnel. Indeed, as the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported in November, the military still considers gay servicemembers to be "single" even when they're legally married:
If [Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack] were killed during her next deployment, [her wife] Ashley would not qualify for full “spousal” survivor benefits, even though, by paying higher premiums, she could be covered as an “insurable interest.” And as a surviving widow, Ashley would not qualify for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from the Department of Veterans or be eligible to receive the folded flag off the coffin in the graveside ceremony, Mack says, because to the military and the VA, Ashley would not be next of kin despite spending a career together.