A former US Senator, and Barack Obama’s likely choice for Defence Secretary, apologised on Friday for “insensitive” remarks he made about an openly gay nominee for an ambassadorship.

In what has been seen by some as an attempt to protect his potential nomination from criticism, Chuck Hagel, apologised for comments he made in 1998 about James Hormel, an openly gay nominee for ambassador to Luxembourg.

In 1998, speaking about Mr Hormel, Mr Hagel told the Omaha World Herald:

“Ambassadorial posts are sensitive. They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyles, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do a better job.” reports the Washington Post. 

In the written statement from Mr Hagel’s office, he wrote: “My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive.

“They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

Mr Hormel, who is still involved in Democratic politics, commented, suggested that the apology was insincere, and said that it was possibly a defensive move by the former Senator. He said:

“I have not received an apology…I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part.”

He went on to say that the apology appeared to have been given “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.”

President of The Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, having previously said that Mr Hagel’s comments were “unacceptable”, released a statement saying:

“Senator Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues,

“Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them,”

The HRC, an LGBT equality-rights advocacy group, had previously released a statement which said:

“Senator Hagel’s unacceptable comments about gay people, coupled with his consistent anti-
LGBT record in Congress, raise serious questions about where he stands on LGBT equality today,

“For him to be an appropriate candidate for any administration post, he must repudiate his comments.”

Critics have noted that Mr Hagel was a longtime supporter of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the ban on openly gay people serving in the US military, and that in 1999, he had told the New York Times: “The armed forces aren’t some social experiment.”