WASHINGTON - Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, caused a stir at a Senate hearing Wednesday when he said he believes homosexual activity is immoral and should not be condoned by the military.
Outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, right, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, wait on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007, for the start of a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the presidential supplemental budget request for the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts. [AP]
Pace, who retires next week, said he was seeking to clarify similar remarks he made in spring, which he said were misreported.
"Are there wonderful Americans who happen to be homosexual serving in the military? Yes," he told the Senate Appropriations Committee during a hearing focused on the Pentagon's 2008 war spending request.
"We need to be very precise then, about what I said wearing my stars and being very conscious of it," he added. "And that is, very simply, that we should respect those who want to serve the nation but not through the law of the land, condone activity that, in my upbringing, is counter to God's law."
Anti-war protesters sitting behind Pace jeered the four-star general's remarks, prompting Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to abruptly adjourn the hearing and seal off the doors.
The hearing resumed about five minutes later in which Pace said he would be supportive of efforts to revisit the Pentagon's policy so long as it didn't violate his belief that sex should be restricted to a married heterosexual couple.
"I would be very willing and able and supportive" to changes to the policy "to continue to allow the homosexual community to contribute to the nation without condoning what I believe to be activity - whether it to be heterosexual or homosexual - that in my upbringing is not right," Pace said.
Pace's lengthy answer on gays was prodded by Sen. Tom Harkin, who said he found Pace's previous remarks as "very hurtful" and "very demoralizing" to homosexuals serving in the military.
In March, the Chicago Tribune reported that Pace said in a wide-ranging interview: "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way."
Harkin, D-Iowa, said he wanted to give Pace a chance to amend his remarks in light of his retirement.
"It's a matter of leadership, and we have to be careful what we say," Harkin said.
Pace noted that the US Military Code of Justice prohibits homosexual activity as well as adultery. Harkin said, "Well, maybe we should change that."