Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama's defense nominee, has endorsed repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” and committed to extending equal benefits to the families of LGBT troops.

In a letter to California Senator Barbara Boxer, Hagel, who has been criticized for his record on gay rights during his tenure as a Senator from Nebraska, made his position clear.

“I fully support the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and value the service of all those who fight for our country,” Hagel wrote. “I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”

Allyson Robinson, the executive director of OutServe-SLDN, the largest group representing LGBT troops, called Hagel's pledge a “turning point” for gay military families.

“Senator Hagel's commitment is a turning point for our gay and lesbian military families,” she said in a statement. “His promise to grant these service members the family benefits they have earned demonstrates his deepening grasp of the injustice currently being done to them.”

Citing Hagel's poor voting record on gay rights in the Senate and comments he made in 1998 toward James Hormel, the openly gay former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans has led the charge against Hagel – a Republican – running expensive full-page ads in The New York Times and The Washington Post opposing his nomination.

Hagel recently apologized for calling Hormel a bad fit for the post of ambassador because he's “openly, aggressively gay.”