A group of seven high-ranking military veterans have responded to recent remarks by General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Last week he called lesbian, gay and bisexual service members “immoral” and re-iterated his support for the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members.

The officers, who are all lesbian or gay, called on Congress to repeal the law, and demanded that General Pace apologise for his remarks.

Each has served more than 20 years, and several considerably longer. They have earned scores of awards, honours and commendations during their careers.

Four served in the Vietnam War.

“Does General Pace believe we are immoral, or that our service was unacceptable?” the group asked. “Does he appreciate the sacrifice and dedication of every patriot in our armed forces, regardless of their sexual orientation?

“As military leaders, we never discounted the enormous contribution that every service member brought to our armed forces. General Pace should do no less, and owes an apology to our men and women on the frontlines and their families.”

“Our community has a long history of serving our country in the armed forces,” the group said.

“Today, there are more than 65,000 lesbian and gay troops on duty. Another one million gay and lesbian veterans, including the seven of us, have served in our fighting forces.

“General Pace’s remarks dishonour that service, as does the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law. General Pace must offer an immediate and unqualified apology for his remarks and Congress must take action to repeal the ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans who want to serve our country.”

The Servicemembers Legal Defence Network, which assist military personnel who are LGBT, estimates there are one million gay veterans in the United States.

“We enormously proud of these stellar officers,” C. Dixon Osburn, the group’s executive director, said in a release.

“These seven are irrefutable proof that lesbian and gay patriots have made valuable contributions to our fighting forces.”

General Pace has been roundly criticised for his comments.

Gay rights activists, among them Sgt. Eric Alva, the first soldier wounded in the Iraq war, who recently came out of the closet.

However, it was an indirect rebuke from General Pace’s superior, Defence Secretary Robert Gates, that may have prompted him to admit he should have kept his views private.

Gates said that personal opinions have no place in discussion of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” introduced in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton.

The policy states that commanders may not ask the sexual orientation of service members.

Gay men and lesbians can only continue to serve only if they do not engage in homosexual acts, and keep their sexual orientation a secret.

“In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct,” said General Pace.

“I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.”

The Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said that moral judgements from General Pace were not needed.

“We need the most talented people; we need the language skills. We need patriotic Americans who exist across the board in our population,” she said.

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