Late Monday night, California Sen. Barbara Boxer endorsed her former colleague Chuck Hagel to serve as Sec. of Defense after speaking with the controversial Republican nominee “extensively” by phone, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday. Boxer said she had been reassured about Hagel’s positions on Israel and on LGBT issues and, the paper reported, “Boxer said she secured another pledge that Hagel would work on what she called an epidemic of sexual assault in the military.” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer also endorsed Hagel on Tuesday.
Outserve-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson said Hagel’s promise to Boxer about extending benefits to lesbian and gay families was a “turning point.” Questions remain, however, about what Hagel means by “to the extent permissible under current law.” Here’s the press release from OutServe-SLDN, with an earlier video below of Robinson on MSNBC expressing her initial concerns about Hagel:
Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson responded today to a letter sent by former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, currently in nomination to become Secretary of Defense, to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). In the letter, he voices support for gay and lesbian military families, writing:
“I fully support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and value the service of all those who fight for our country. I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”
“Senator Hagel’s commitment is a turning point for our gay and lesbian military families. His promise to grant these service members the family benefits they have earned demonstrates his deepening grasp of the injustice currently being done to them,” said Robinson.
OutServe-SLDN has been calling on the Pentagon for nearly two years to take action on benefits that may be provided to gay and lesbian military families, even as the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains on the books. An August 2011 letter to Secretary Leon Panetta provides a comprehensive list of these benefits.
Robinson also cautioned today that in order for Hagel to follow through on his commitment, he will need to overcome the reported intransigence on these issues of his service chiefs, who according to Pentagon insiders have opposed this action.
“The best way for Senator Hagel to deal with that kind of foot-dragging in the Department of Defense is to take another step: the amendment of the military’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity policies to cover our community. These documents help establish the command climate for the entire force, and for Senator Hagel to expand them in this way would send a very clear message that the days of treating LGBT service members as second class citizens will be coming to an end under his leadership,” said Robinson.
The Family Equality Council also issued a statement:
“This commitment is a big step forward for military families with lesbian and gay parents,” said Emily Hecht-McGowan, Director of Public Policy. “The Department of Defense has a lot of work to do to ensure that all military families have access to the benefits they’ve earned through service to their country. We look forward to working with the Administration to make sure that all military families, including those with lesbian and gay servicemembers, are protected and respected.”
Here’s Robinson on MSNBC’s News Nation Jan. 8 discussing Hagel’s nomination: