In a rare rebuke of the nation's top military officer, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., says he strongly disagrees with Gen. Peter Pace's views that homosexuality is "immoral."
"I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the chairman's view that homosexuality is immoral," Warner said in a statement released by his office.
Warner was reacting to Pace's unusual defense of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that he supported the policy because he believed homosexuality was "immoral" and that the military "should not condone immoral acts."
And Pace is not backing down. In a statement released this afternoon, he clarified his comments, saying, "In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct. … I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views."
During his interview with the Chicago Tribune on Monday, however, Pace talked at length about his personal views.
"My upbringing is such that I believe there are certain things, certain types of conduct that are immoral," Pace said. "I believe that military members who sleep with other military members' wives are immoral in their conduct, in that we should not tolerate that. I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts."
Military experts, however, say morality was never the basis of the policy, which says gays may serve in the military only if they keep their sexual orientations private and don't engage in homosexual activity.
"Morality was never the basis of the policy," said retired Gen. Jack Keane. "It was about unit cohesion."
In fact, in July 1993, Colin Powell, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and drafted the "don't ask" policy, endorsed the policy with these words to the House Armed Services Committee: "It is not in place in the military, those of us in senior leadership positions, to make moral or religious judgments with respect to homosexuality. Our perspective, and the only perspective we should bring to this issue, is the unique perspective of the military and what is best for military effectiveness."
Some in the military argued that having openly gay service members living in military barracks could cause a breakdown of "good order and discipline."
Gates: 'Personal Opinion … Doesn't Have a Place'
The "don't ask, don't tell" policy was drafted in 1993 by Powell, and it was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton.
In an interview with the Pentagon channel today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked his views on the policy. He offered a much different answer than Pace.
"I think personal opinion really doesn't have a place here," Gates said. "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."
In the interview with the Chicago Tribune, however, Pace offered a unique rationale for the policy. His answer came in response to a question about whether he thought the policy should remain in place.
"I do," he said.
"Can you tell me why?" the Tribune interviewer asked.
"I do not believe the armed forces of the U.S. are well served by saying through our policies that it is OK to be immoral in any way not just with regard to homosexuality," Pace said. "So from that standpoint, saying that gays should serve open in the military says to me that we by policy would be condoning what I believe is immoral activity and therefore as an individual I would not want that to be our policy."
"Just like I would not want it to be our policy that, 'if so and so were sleeping with someone else's wife,' that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior between members of the armed forces."
Pentagon Official Refuses to 'Judge Morality'
Pace has not commented publicly since his interview with the Tribune, which took place on Monday. He does not, however, seem to be backing away from his comments.
"Gen. Pace was asked for his personal opinion, and he provided," said Col. Katie Haddock, a spokeswoman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Asked for comment, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would not say whether or not it was Defense policy that homosexual acts are immoral.
"Look, you're wanting me to judge morality," Whitman said. "I'm not going to do that."
So, what does the Pentagon think about the fact that Pace made a moral judgment on homosexual acts?
"I'm not going to comment on anyone's personal opinion," Whitman said. "Personal opinion is not what the issue is here, it's not what's important. What is important is that we have a policy that we will continue to implement that says we will continue to discharge people based on conduct and not on orientation."
More than 10,000 people have been discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy since it went into effect, but the numbers have gone down since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.