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WASHINGTON — A major gay-rights group said Thursday that Chuck Hagel's comments on gays and his past votes are "unacceptable," another strike against the former Republican senator's chances of becoming the next defense secretary.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the comments and Hagel's "consistent anti-LGBT" record" in the Senate raise serious questions about where he stands on the issues today.
"The next secretary of defense must be supportive of open service as well as equal benefits for lesbian and gay military families and Sen. Hagel must address these issues immediately," Griffin said. "Whomever is selected to be the next secretary of defense needs to understand there are clear expectations for progress at the (Defense Department) and that the president's views on key issues must be reflected by the secretary."
Specifically, the group said Hagel must repudiate remarks he made in 1998 about James Hormel, then President Bill Clinton's nominee for ambassador to Luxembourg. In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald, Hagel referred to Hormel as "openly, aggressively gay."
"For him to be an appropriate candidate for any administration post, he must repudiate his comments about Ambassador Hormel," Griffin said.
Griffin's concerns about Hagel could influence Obama. Griffin is a well-connected Hollywood political consultant who has led the Human Rights Campaign since last summer. He was among Obama's top fundraisers before taking the helm of the gay rights organization and raising more than $500,000 for the president's re-election.
Griffin was instrumental in recruiting the legal team of Theodore Olson and David Boies, who successfully challenged the ban on same-sex marriage in California, a case now headed to the Supreme Court.
Hagel is considered a top candidate to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon although a number of senators have expressed serious reservations about a nomination. Their concerns largely center on Hagel's past comments about Israel and Iran. Outside groups have suggested that based on Hagel's remarks, he isn't sufficiently supportive of Israel.
Hagel served two terms as one of Nebraska's senators, retiring in 2009.
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.