Baldwin joins Senate to confirm Hagel

Openly gay U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin voted for the confirmation of former Senator Chuck Hagel to become Secretary of Defense, in a 58 to 41 vote Tuesday (February 26).

The LGBT community initially balked at Hagel’s nomination, primarily due to comments he made to oppose the confirmation of openly gay ambassador James Hormel during the Clinton years. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin called Hagel’s past comments and his Congressional voting on gay-related issues “unacceptable.” Stacy Long, policy director for another large national LGBT political group, said her organization was “gravely concerned” about Hagel’s commitment to equality for gay people. And then U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said Hagel’s hostile comments regarding Hormel were a “disqualification from being appointed.”

But Hagel quickly issued an apology for those remarks –even before President Obama nominated him—and the community’s opposition softened to ambivalence.

“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,” said Hagel in the apology. “I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families,” said Hagel in his statement.

One group that did voice and maintain its opposition to Hagel was Log Cabin Republicans. That group issued a statement Tuesday, following the confirmation vote, saying, “Senator Hagel was never our ideal choice for Secretary of Defense, but we know we can find common ground with him on at least one issue: we want what is best for the United States of America and our brave men and women who serve to protect it.”

The statement, attributed to Executive Director Gregory Angelo, said that, despite Hagel’s previous “hurtful comments against the LGBT community” and his “dismal” record on LGBT issues, “we must look to the future now that Chuck Hagel has been confirmed as Secretary of Defense with the hope that his repudiation of past statements and declared commitment to supporting open service for all is genuine.”

Baldwin said initially that she would scrutinize Hagel carefully to determine whether his apology for the Hormel remarks was “sincere and sufficient.” In a press release February 13, she said she would support Hagel’s confirmation. While she did not mention anything about his views on sexual orientation, she noted that she was impressed with his “humility to admit mistakes and learn from them.” A spokesperson later told this reporter that Senator Baldwin was satisfied that Hagel’s apology over the Hormel remarks was “sincere and sufficient.”

OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which had indicated it was “comfortable” with Hagel’s nomination, issued a statement Tuesday congratulating him on his confirmation and calling it a “win” for all servicemembers, “and for LGBT service members and their families especially.”

In response to questions from Democratic senators, Hagel said at his confirmation hearing January 31 that he would protect the right of same-sex couples to use military chapels for their marriage ceremonies but would not require military chaplains perform such ceremonies if they were morally opposed to such marriages. He also promised Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) his “complete commitment” to ensuring that gay servicemembers’ families would receive equal treatment.

“We thank the Senator for his commitment to equal treatment and equal opportunity, and we urge him to take swift action to include our service members in non-discrimination and anti-harassment protections,” said OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson.


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