Former US Senator Chuck Hagel was asked about gays in the military and same-sex marriages being performed on military bases Thursday (31 January) during a sometimes contentious secretary of defense confirmation hearing.
'I am fully committed to implementing the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’' Hagel said in his opening statement, "And doing everything possible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all, all our service members.'
He was later asked specifically about enforcing gay and lesbian military personal post-Don't Ask Don't Tell, the anti-gay policy that had banned them from serving openly.
'I will faithfully, diligently enforce out laws,' Hagel said. 'All men and women deserve the same rights,' Hagel said. 'I can assure you that that will be a high priority to enforce that and assure that in every way through the entire chain of command.'
Hagel agreed that no military chaplains could be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies 'as a matter of conscience' but stressed that the marriages should indeed take place on the bases in the states where they are legal.
'Same-sex marriage is legal in nine states,' he said. 'What we don't want though is (for) someone to be denied to be married in a chapel or a facility.'
President Barack Obama nominated former Senator Chuck Hagel to lead the US Defense Department earlier this month despite being under fire for anti-gay comments he made in the past.
Hagel apologized in December for comments he made as a Republican senator in 1998 when a gay man, James C. Hormel, was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton to be US ambassador to Luxembourg.
Said Hagel then: 'They are representing America. 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.'
In his apology, Hagel said his comments 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,' he said. 'I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.'
Obama said he believes his appointee's apology is sincere and stood by him.