US President Barack Obama has named Chuck Hagel as defence secretary, despite a backlash over his previous comments on gay rights.

The Republican former US senator has come under renewed criticism from LGBT campaigners for comments he made in 1998, when he described ex-US Ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel, as “aggressively gay”.

Mr Hagel, previously a strong supporter of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the ban on openly gay people serving in the US military, apologised for the comments last month.

However, Mr Hormel suggested the apology lacked sincerity and was simply a way of trying to bolster his nomination as the next secretary of defence.

Responding to Monday’s nomination, OutServe-SLDN, which represents LGBT military personnel, said Mr Hagel was undoubtedly qualified, but demanded that he immediately extend full benefits to married LGBT military personnel and otherwise prove his statement that his is “committed to LGBT military families.”

Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press just after Christmas, and in reference to Mr Hagel’s anti-gay remarks, President Obama said:

“He apologised for it. And I think it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country.

“And that’s something that I’m very proud to have led. And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.”

The appointment must be confirmed by the US Senate.