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Sparring erupts over military personnel in San Diego gay parade

July 25, 2012 |  5:32 pm

San Diego parade
Organizers of the military contingent in Saturday's LGBT Pride parade in San Diego have accused congressional critics of trying to "bully the Pentagon into moving backwards" on the issue of gays in the military.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) criticized the Pentagon's decision to let service members wear their uniforms while marching in the parade -- the first time military personnel have been permitted to wear uniforms in a gay parade.

Forbes said the decision by a deputy assistant secretary of defense "was an outrageous and blatantly political determination issued solely to advance this administration's social agenda."

Inhofe demanded an explanation from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Inhofe, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the decision to allow personnel to wear their uniforms in the parade violates a Department of Defense policy banning personnel from involvement "in a partisan political parade."

In a letter to Panetta, Inhofe requested "a detailed explanation of the rationale you used to grant this 'one time waiver' of DOD policy, who requested the waiver, why this waiver was considered justified over other requests and whether you are considering other exceptions to current policy."

Former sailor Sean Sala, a member of Servicemembers United Leadership Council and the organizer of the military contingent for the parade, issued a statement Wednesday reading, in part:

"Sen. Inhofe and his like-minded colleagues should spend some time actually meeting and talking with some of these gay troops and veterans instead of using their platform to try to bully the Pentagon into moving backwards."

The San Diego parade and festival, Sala said, "are in the same category of non-partisan and non-political community events as are many other events and parades in which servicemembers are also allowed to participate in uniform."

Upward of four dozen military personnel wore uniforms in the parade through the heavily gay neighborhood of Hillcrest. Other military members marched with them, many wearing T-shirts identifying their branch of service.

--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: A Marine reservist and his civilian partner at Saturday's LGBT Pride parade in San Diego.

Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times