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Hatch creates uproar on 'don't ask, don't tell'

WASHINGTON — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, seemed to say on national TV Wednesday that he is open to considering repeal of the ban on gays in the military — creating an uproar on many political and gay-activist Web sites.

Then on Thursday, he issued a statement saying he does not support repeal — and blasted liberal groups for what he said was twisting his position.

"It's deeply regrettable that liberal groups are misconstruing my position on 'don't ask, don't tell' for activist purposes. I certainly do not support repealing this policy," Hatch's statement on Thursday said.

But a day earlier, MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell asked Hatch in a live interview about repealing the policy — as proposed by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech, and supported by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen.

"I believe there are very outstanding, patriotic gay people who serve in the military and they ought to be given credit for it. And they shouldn't have to lie about being gay," Hatch said.

But, he added, "On the other hand, I think a lot of people are concerned that if you do away with the 'don't ask, don't tell,' that literally then they'll come back and ask for special rights and preferences and privileges that others don't have. I don't see that either. So, like I say, I just plain do not believe in prejudice of any kind."

Mitchell then asked, "You're willing to vote for the change?"

Hatch said, "Well, I don't know about that. I'd have to look at it," noting that Mullen has proposed a study of up to a year on the policy and its consequences. "I'd like to wait until the end and then see what they come up with and see what happens. But I can see why both sides are upset. I just want to do what's right."

Mitchell said, "I can put you down as at least being open to the idea?"

"I am," Hatch said. Mitchell added, "That's a very interesting statement."

It almost immediately caused political and gay-activist Web sites to speculate that lifting the gay ban might be a real possibility if Hatch were for it. Then Hatch issued his follow-up statement saying that he opposes repeal.

"What I said was that I want to see Adm. Mullen's report. This is a controversial issue with inflamed passions on both sides," Hatch said.

"Over the years, the views of the military officers and experts, whom I respect, have said that repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' would make life for our troops more difficult — especially as our armed forces wage a global war on terrorism," Hatch said.

He added, "I always try to be fair and stand by what's right and that is why I look forward to reviewing the admiral's report."

This story was reported from Salt Lake City.