By Mike Lillis - 12/09/11 08:53 PM EST
A leading Democrat went after GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry Friday for a campaign ad criticizing the rights of gays to serve openly in the military.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Texas) — a senior Democrat on both the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees — said the ad "shows the unfortunate underbelly of politics" and exposes Perry as "a man desperate to remain relevant in a crowded Republican field vying for the approval of its Tea Party base."
"This is an attack on those who can openly serve our country in the United States military, and Perry owes these brave men and women an apology for distastefully using them as a political prop."
Released by Perry's campaign Wednesday, the new ad features Perry bemoaning the fact that gays can serve openly in the military while children can't pray in schools. Trumpeting his Christian heritage, the Texas governor vows to reverse the trend.
"I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a Christian," Perry says in the ad. "But you don't have to be in a pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."
"As president," he adds, "I'll end Obama's war on religion."
“This is a strategy that plays to a very, very small minority — playing to the cheap seats is what it is,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder of GOProud, a group representing gay Republicans.
Reyes joined the critics on Friday, calling the ad "inappropriate and frankly unacceptable."
“Gov. Perry doesn't seem to understand," he said, "that in civilian society, there is no law that requires individuals to conceal their sexual orientation to keep their job."