WASHINGTON -- Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed mild regret yesterday for calling homosexual acts "immoral," but he stopped short of an apology as gay rights groups and a powerful Republican senator rebuked the general for the comments he made to the Chicago Tribune.
As critics fired rhetorical volleys, Pace issued a statement expressing regret that he had put so much stress on the morality issue when he defended the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military during a Monday interview with the Tribune's editorial board.
"In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct," Pace said in his statement. "I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views."
But this statement did not mollify critics who called the general's statements insensitive and outrageous and said he should apologize.
However, Pace's senior staff members said he was expressing personal views and did not intend to apologize.
Still, the incident provided a strong hint that Congress may hold hearings this year on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy approved during the Clinton administration, which allows gays to serve in the military as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation. That clue came when Virginia Sen. John W. Warner, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, took issue with the general.
"I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman's view that homosexuality is immoral," the senator said. "In keeping with my long-standing respect for the Armed Services Committee hearing process, I will decline to comment on the current policy until after such hearings are held."
William Neikirk and Karoun Demirjian write for the Chicago Tribune.