Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel's possible nomination to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of defense is being haunted by anti-gay comments he made in the late 1990s. and The New York Times reported that in 1998 Hagel opposed James Hormel's nomination as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, saying he was a bad fit because he's “openly, aggressively gay.”

“Ambassadorial posts are sensitive,” Hagel, a Republican, told the Omaha World-Herald. “They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay – openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel – to do an effective job.”

President Bill Clinton used a recess appointment to place Hormel in the the post after conservatives in the Senate blocked his nomination.

Denis Dison, vice president of communications at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a group which supports openly LGBT elected officials, said bureaucrats “who are still openly, aggressively anti-gay in 2012 probably won't be able to function very well in Washington.”

“Today openly LGBT Americans serve throughout the three branches of the federal government, and at very high levels,” Dison told

Hagel in 1999 told The New York Times that he opposed repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” because “the U.S. armed forces aren't some social experiment.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest gay rights advocate, called on Hagel to repudiate his comments about Hormel.

(Related: James Hormel, first gay ambassador, calls DOMA 'heinous legislation.')