An openly gay man as Secretary of the Navy?

AN OPENLY GAY MAN AS SECRETARY OF THE NAVY?…. Well, this would probably raise a few eyebrows.

Some top retired military leaders and some Democrats in Congress are backing William White, chief operating officer of the Intrepid Museum Foundation, to be the next secretary of the Navy — a move that would put the first openly gay person at the top of one of the services.

The secretary’s job is a civilian position, so it would not run afoul of the ban on gays serving in the military, but it would renew focus on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to take office.

“He would be phenomenal,” said retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001, pointing to Mr. White’s extensive background as a fundraiser for veterans’ and military causes.

Retired members of the Joint Chiefs have contacted Mr. Obama’s transition team to urge them to pick Mr. White, and members of Congress said he would be a good choice for a service secretary. […]

Gen. Shelton called Mr. White’s work at both the Intrepid Museum and the Fisher House Foundation “legendary.”

“He has always been a staunch advocate of our men and women in uniform,” Gen. Shelton said.

The Fisher House Foundation, which White has devoted considerable time to, offers a place to stay so families can be close to military members who are receiving medical care.

Having an openly gay person serve as the Secretary of the Navy would almost certainly drive conservative Republicans in Congress to apoplexy, and White’s lack of military experience — service is not an option given his sexual orientation — would no doubt raise questions.

But retired Gen. Hugh Shelton knows a little something about qualifications in this area, and if he thinks White would be “phenomenal,” that would carry quite a bit of weight, on the Hill and at the Pentagon.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.