Chuck Hagel's Evolution on Gay Rights Is Tearing the Log Cabin Republicans Apart

The group's recent ads attacking Obama's Secretary of Defense nominee are internally divisive, leaving some advocates to call the turn of events "surreal."

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Of the many reactions to Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel's comments about an ambassador nominee being "aggressively gay" — which the then-Senator gave to a Nebraska newspaper in 1998 but emerged in December, forcing an apology before they emerged in expanded form on Wednesday — by far the most vexing, and internally divisive, stem from the Log Cabin Republicans.

The prominent conservative gay-rights group sponsored a series of critical ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post leading up to Hagel's nomination by President Obama on Monday.  As the confirmation debate slowly ratchets up, the ads reflect a dilemma for the group: they endorsed former presidential nominee Mitt Romney despite his total opposition to gay marriage and civil unions for gay couples, as well as his view that Don't Ask, Don't Tell should not have been repealed.

And Hagel's comments are clearly controversial among the group's rank and file members, one of whom resigned Wednesday from Log Cabin's D.C. chapter over the ads attacking Hagel. Berin Szoka writes:

Mitt Romney opposed DADT repeal, marriage equality, employment non-discrimination and essentially every other gay issue Log Cabin stands for — yet Log Cabin still endorsed him, albeit in a “qualified” way. Now they oppose Hagel, who's said he's "fully supportive of 'open service' and committed to LGBT military families" — the only gay issues a secretary of Defense actually handles.

"That bizarre double standard," Szoka continues, "will frustrate what should be Log Cabin’s top goal: encouraging Republicans to improve on gay rights — precisely as Hagel's done."

The group's insistence that Hagel remains hostile to gay people (despite his apology in December) is even starker in light of the additional and hitherto unnoticed comments Hagel gave to the Omaha World-Herald 15 years ago. On top of the "aggressively gay" comment, Hagel criticized the philanthropist James Hormel for patronizing the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a San Francisco collective, due to the "anti-Catholic" nature of the drag shows members of the group performed in:

“It is very clear on this tape that he’s laughing and enjoying the antics of an anti-Catholic gay group in this gay parade,” Hagel told the paper in the 1998 interview. “I think it’s wise for the president not to go forward with this nomination.”

Placed side by side, Hagel's comments and his recent apology may begin to reveal a Republican who used to be fairly uncomfortable with gay men (and, more broadly, queer culture) but who gradually came to accept them into both the broader culture and the U.S. armed forces — an institution that until recently prohibited its gay members from disclosing their sexuality. Hagel's position on gay people in the military especially evolved as groups like the Log Cabin Republicans led efforts to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Which is why the group's more recent efforts are confusing so many, like Andrew Sullivan, who concluded the following Wednesday:

It's surreal to see Log Cabin target a Republican nominee who has clearly evolved on gay issues, while endorsing a presidential candidate who has actually gone in the opposite direction.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.