In a letter responding to questions from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel addressed concerns about his support for LGBT equality in the military. He made it clear that he supports the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy that required gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops to hide their identities, and expressed his intent to provide equal benefits to the same-sex partners and families of servicemembers:
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. 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.
Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the military from recognizing servicemembers’ same-sex spouses, which can result in tragic consequences in addition to the denial of benefits.
Hagel’s nomination has been criticized because of anti-gay comments he made in 1998 about the nomination of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg, calling him “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel apologized for those remarks last month, and Hormel responded that he had accepted that apology. As discussion of his nomination has continued, LGBT groups have been split over Hagel’s nomination, with some groups expressing concern and others imploring him to move past his anti-gay past by embracing further changes to ensure the equal treatment of LGBT servicemembers. His support for finding a way to protect same-sex spouses suggests he intends to do just that. Boxer now says she supports Hagel’s nomination.