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Top general: Remarks on gays were 'personal moral views'

Story Highlights

Gen. Peter Pace says his remarks focused too much on personal views
Staff earlier said general had no plans to apologize for remarks on gays
• Pace told newspaper that homosexual acts are immoral
• Advocacy group says comments disrespectful to 65,000 gay troops
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The top U.S. military officer, Gen. Peter Pace, said Tuesday he should have focused more on military policy and less on his own opinion when he told a newspaper homosexual acts are immoral.

His remarks drew opposition from some lawmakers and an advocacy group.

Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Chicago Tribune on Monday that he supports the "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning openly gay people from serving in the U.S. armed forces.

"In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct," Pace said in a statement. "I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views." (Watch viewers weigh in on Pace's comments Video)

Earlier Tuesday, senior staff members for Pace said the general had no plans to apologize for his comments, which included comparisons between homosexuality and adultery -- behavior that he said is prosecuted in the military.

"My upbringing is such that I believe that there are certain things, certain types of conduct that are immoral," Pace told the Tribune. "I believe that military members who sleep with other military members' wives are immoral in their conduct."

Pace also told the paper, "I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral, and that we should not condone immoral acts.

"So the 'don't ask, don't tell' [policy] allows an individual to serve the country ... if we know about immoral acts, regardless of committed by who, then we have a responsibility.

"I do not believe that the armed forces are well served by saying through our policies that it's OK to be immoral in any way, not just with regards to homosexual acts," the Joint Chiefs chairman said.

"So from that standpoint, saying that gays should serve openly in the military to me says that we, by policy, would be condoning what I believe is immoral activity," he added.

Lawmakers take issue with Pace

Sen. John Warner of Virginia -- the ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee -- expressed his opposition to Pace's opinion.

According to Warner aide John Ullyot, the senator said, "I strongly disagree with the chairman's views that homosexuality is immoral."

Democratic Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, author of a Military Readiness Enhancement Act that would repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, said Tuesday that Pace should recognize the harmful effect the ban is having on the military.

"Gen. Pace's statements aren't in line with either the majority of the public or the military," Meehan said in a statement. "He needs to recognize that support for overturning 'don't ask, don't tell' is strong and growing."

Also, Defense Secretary Robert Gates sidestepped a question Tuesday about his view of the policy.

"I think personal opinion really doesn't have a place here," he said in an interview on the Pentagon Channel. "What's important is that we have a law, a statute that governs 'don't ask, don't tell.'

"That's the policy of this department, and it's my responsibility to execute that policy as effectively as we can. As long as the law is what it is, that's what we'll do," Gates added.

Advocacy group: General should apologize

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit group that represents military personnel affected by the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, demanded Tuesday that Pace apologize for his remarks.

"Gen. Pace's comments are outrageous, insensitive and disrespectful to the 65,000 lesbian and gay troops now serving in our armed forces," said C. Dixon Osburn, the group's executive director. "Our men and women in uniform make tremendous sacrifices for our country, and deserve Gen. Pace's praise, not his condemnation."

The statement added, "It is inappropriate for the chairman to condemn those who serve our country because of his own personal bias. He should immediately apologize for his remarks."

Asked if Pace would apologize, his senior staff members said the general stands by his statements as an expression of his personal opinion, and he has no intention of apologizing.

President Clinton signed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy into law in 1994. The military has supported the policy, citing its belief that homosexuality is detrimental to good order and discipline in the armed forces.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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