Guest Commentary: Hagel Nomination Exposes Gay Rights Double Standard

February 14, 2013

DOUBLE STANDARD:  No pro-equality Democrat could justify voting to confirm Chuck Hagel if he were nominated by a Republican president

Imagine this: Mitt Romney wins last November and nominates someone for defense secretary who was hostile to gay Americans and gay rights.  That same Romney nominee had also strongly criticized Israel, opposed even the possibility of military action to prevent a nuclear Iran, and backed massive, job-killing defense cuts.

The Democrats would have torn such a nominee apart. However, because someone with that record, Chuck Hagel, was nominated by President Obama instead of a Republican, Democrats are largely giving the nomination a free pass.  That will not wash — Democrats who care about equality and national security need to rise above partisanship and oppose the Hagel nomination.

Chuck Hagel has repeatedly stood against equal opportunities and rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans.  In 1998, he opposed President Clinton’s nomination of James C. Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg because, Hagel said, Hormel was “openly, aggressively gay.”   Hagel opposed marriage equality and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and his voting history almost always earned a perfect zero on the scorecard of the Human Rights Campaign, whose president recently criticized Hagel’s “consistent anti-LGBT” record.

Not once did Hagel publicly reverse his position on any of these issues—even after he left the Senate in 2009.  There is no evidence that he lifted a finger to help repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), for example, even though his support for repeal could have made a big difference with Republicans, service-members, and veterans.

Only in recent weeks, facing the prospect of nomination for defense secretary, did Hagel begin to change his tune, including an apology for his comments about Ambassador Hormel.  However, Hagel’s apology comes 12 years too late and is transparently about Hagel’s own self-advancement.  If he cared one bit about helping LGBT Americans, he would have said something – anything — when there was a chance to do some good for gay men and women in uniform who wanted to serve openly; for gay couples who wanted to get married; for gay employees who wanted to come out of the closet without fear of losing their jobs.  Moreover, there is no reason for gay men and women in the military to believe that Hagel will support them should the Senate confirm him.

Hagel’s record on national security is no better.  He blamed Israel first for setbacks in the Middle East peace process, and refused to sign letter after letter in support of Israel.  Hagel also said the U.S. relationship with Israel need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships.  He also played to traditional stereotypes of behind-closed-doors Jewish power when he said, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Washington.

Unfortunately, Hagel is as soft on U.S. enemies as he is tough on U.S. allies.  He opposed bills that would sanction the Iranian regime.  He also voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization and opposed sanctions on Qaddafi’s Libya.  He would not even sign a letter calling on the European Union to label Iranian-supported Hezbollah as a terror group, and he urged the U.S. to negotiate directly with Hamas, another Iran-backed terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of Americans and Israelis.  And, while the Obama Administration has repeatedly emphasized that a military option is on the table to stop Iran from going nuclear, Chuck Hagel said the use of force was “not a viable, feasible, responsible option.”

Needless to say, none of these rogue regimes and their violent proxies, which Hagel repeatedly opposed getting tough on, are remotely tolerant to LGBT people.  Iran even hangs gays.  Israel, on the other hand, which Hagel loved to target for criticism, is by far the most gay-friendly nation in the Middle East.  But Hagel’s priorities are as clear as they are backwards.  Hagel now claims to be staunchly pro-Israel and hawkish on Iran, but his record speaks volumes about where he really stands.

No pro-equality Democrat could justify voting to confirm Chuck Hagel if he were nominated by a Republican president.  Hagel’s record is no less objectionable, and his belated apologies and flip-flops no more believable just because he was nominated by President Obama.  Doing the right thing is most important when it is tough, not when it is easy.  Democratic senators need to do the right thing and vote against confirming Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.

George Gramer is the President of the Colorado chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization dedicated to fairness, freedom, and equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

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