James Hormel, the first openly gay U.S. ambassador, has called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) “heinous legislation.”

In 1999, Hormel was appointed United States Ambassador to Luxembourg by President Bill Clinton, who was forced to use a recess appointment because the Senate refused to act. He left his post in 2001.

The 78-year-old Hormel, who is pitching his new book Fit to Serve, appeared Friday on ABC's Top Line.

My appointment was “in effect, breaking the pink ceiling,” Hormel, grandson of George A. Hormel, founder of Hormel Foods, said.

After noting that gay rights had progressed tremendously in the past decade, Hormel said the struggle for equality will continue.

“The number one problem today as I see it is that people think that being gay is a matter of choice, and they somehow distinguish gay people as having made a choice to be tormented by their society,” Hormel said.

And he called DOMA, which bans federal agencies from recognizing gay marriages and was signed into law by Clinton, “the most heinous piece of civil rights legislation in a century.” (The video is embedded in the right panel of this page.)

(Related: Gay marriage ban DOMA repeal bill clears Senate Panel.)