Having faced criticism over his previous homophobic views, the US Senate has confirmed former Senator Chuck Hagel as the new US Defence Secretary.

Last December, Mr Hagel apologised for comments he made in 1998, when he described ex-US Ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel, as “aggressively gay”.

Mr Hagel’s position on gay equality in America’s armed forces was also called into question due to his previous support of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a law which prohibited openly gay personnel from serving in the military – and was repealed in September 2011.

Despite criticism from gay rights groups, President Obama gave Chuck Hagel his backing at the end of last year.

During his confirmation hearing last month, Mr Hagel was asked about same-sex marriages being performed on military bases.

“I am fully committed to implementing the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” he said. “And doing everything possible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all, all our service members.”

The former Republican Nebraska senator was confirmed by 58-41 last night.

Mr Hagel will replace outgoing Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who was confirmed by 100-0 in June 2011.