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February 8, 2013

Hagel vows to advance gay troop benefits

Washington, D.C.--During the January 31 confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Chuck Hagel vowed to move forward on benefits for gay troops.

The former Republican senator was nominated by President Barack Obama to replace exiting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Hagel first came up against criticism for 1998 comments during confirmation hearings on the nomination of James Hormel to the post of ambassador to Luxembourg.

“Ambassadorial posts are sensitive. 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,” he was quoted in a Nebraska newspaper.

Hagel issued a statement in late December apologizing for those comments, insisting that they were not representative of his record of public service. He also expressed his support of open service and his commitment to LGBT military families.

However, even after his apology, the Log Cabin Republicans took out an anti-Hagel ad in the New York Times, accusing him of being anti-Israel and anti-gay. It is not known who funded the LCR ad, which was especially odd given that Hagel was a Republican senator.

Hagel promised to move “expeditiously” on benefits for the families of LGBT service members, although he may have to find a way to work around the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

However, the secretary of defense could allow military ID cards to be issued to same-sex spouses, grant joint duty assignments and other benefits which could be given administratively, at his discretion.

Pentagon officials are reviewing which benefits can be granted while DOMA is intact.

“I understand that this review is not taking the form of a report, per se, but has involved assembling detailed information on individual benefits . . . to support decision making by the senior civilian and military leadership of the department, and also that those decisions are currently under active consideration,” Hagel wrote in answer to questions presented before the hearings by senators, according to the Washington Blade. “If confirmed, I will review the work that has been undertaken during the course of the benefits review and will work closely with the Department of Defense civilian and military leadership to move forward expeditiously on this issue.”

The issue of which benefits can be granted may soon be moot, however, as challenges to DOMA have made it to the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on its constitutionality by this summer.

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