Chuck Hagel today sent a letter to U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) committing to providing benefits to families of all service members, including those who are lesbian, gay, and bisexual. Hagel is working through a contentious nomination process to replace Leon Panetta as America’s next Secretary of Defense. Neo-con conservatives and gay GOP groups have stridently opposed his nomination, supposedly because of what they see as his position on Israel, and for anti-gay comments Hagel made 14 years ago, for which he has apologized.
“I fully support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and value the service of all those who fight for our country,” Hagel’s letter states. “I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”
Of course, “to the extent permissible under current law,” may be subject to interpretation.
“Senator Hagel’s commitment is a turning point for our gay and lesbian military families. His promise to grant these service members the family benefits they have earned demonstrates his deepening grasp of the injustice currently being done to them,” said Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson, via a press release:
OutServe-SLDN has been calling on the Pentagon for nearly two years to take action on benefits that may be provided to gay and lesbian military families, even as the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains on the books. An August 2011 letter to Secretary Leon Panetta provides a comprehensive list of these benefits.
Robinson also cautioned today that in order for Hagel to follow through on his commitment, he will need to overcome the reported intransigence on these issues of his service chiefs, who according to Pentagon insiders have opposed this action.
“The best way for Senator Hagel to deal with that kind of foot-dragging in the Department of Defense is to take another step: the amendment of the military’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity policies to cover our community. These documents help establish the command climate for the entire force, and for Senator Hagel to expand them in this way would send a very clear message that the days of treating LGBT service members as second class citizens will be coming to an end under his leadership,” said Robinson.
The Family Equality Council also issued a press release, which “hails” the former Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska’s letter:
“This commitment is a big step forward for military families with lesbian and gay parents,” said Emily Hecht-McGowan, Director of Public Policy, via a statement. “The Department of Defense has a lot of work to do to ensure that all military families have access to the benefits they’ve earned through service to their country. We look forward to working with the Administration to make sure that all military families, including those with lesbian and gay servicemembers, are protected and respected.”
Most LGBT organizations — with the exception of GOProud, the Log Cabin Republicans, and GetEQUAL, all of which actively oppose Hagel — support the nomination. The Human Rights Campaign, which railed against Hagel’s anti-gay comments from 14 years ago, that surfaced recently, has yet to support him.
“This is one nominee for which the hearings will be critical because … we are going to be very interested in what he has to say on a whole host of different issues,” said Fred Sainz, vice president for communications at the Human Rights Campaign,” Roll Call reported last week:
The HRC and other groups will be watching to see how Hagel’s views on gay issues have evolved over the past 15 years, as have many Americans’ since the 1990s.
Hagel got low marks from the HRC during his two terms in the Senate, but Sainz said he does not consider him to be a “fire-breather on gay issues.” Meanwhile, Hagel’s clear support from President Barack Obama, who pushed for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and supports gay marriage, has prompted the HRC and other groups to take a measured approach to the nomination.
“It is entirely understandable that an individual could have said really ignorant things back 15 years ago … and understand how those statements would be inappropriate in today’s context,” Sainz said.
Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who last week became the first openly gay senator, has said she wants to talk to Hagel to see how his views have evolved since 1998. Speaking on MSNBC on Monday, Baldwin signaled that Hagel’s stance on gay issues is all the more significant because of the repeal of the ban on openly gay servicemembers.
“We need to see that implemented successfully,” she said.
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