Pentagon Issues Weddings Policy
Special Report - October 10, 2011
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) recently issued two guidance memos for military chaplains that appear to indicate a change of policy regarding their participation in same-sex wedding ceremonies as a result of last month’s repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. As we previously reported, the repeal of DADT, which prohibited homosexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military, became official on September 20. The DOD memos, which were issued just 10 days later on September 30, say that, depending on state law, military chaplains should make decisions about participating in “private functions,” including religious ceremonies, on a “sexual-orientation neutral basis,” while emphasizing that chaplains cannot be forced to officiate at ceremonies that may conflict with their religious faith.
According to a DOD press release, the first memo, which was signed by DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson, states that “determinations regarding the use of DOD real property and facilities for private functions, including religious and other ceremonies, should be made on a sexual-orientation neutral basis, provided such use is not prohibited by applicable state and local laws.” The second memo, which was signed by Clifford Stanley, DOD Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, states that “a military chaplain may participate in or officiate any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law.” The Stanley memo also informs chaplains that they “are not required to officiate at ceremonies that are in variance with the tenets of their beliefs.”
It is unclear what impact the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman for federal purposes and is currently being challenged in the courts and through proposed federal legislation, will have on the DOD’s decision to allow same-sex “marriage” ceremonies to be performed on DOD property. In a statement, U.S. Representative Todd Akins (RMS) took issue with the DOD guidance memos, emphasizing that the federal DOMA law applies to ceremonies performed by military chaplains on military property. “The Defense of Marriage Act makes it clear that for the purposes of the federal government, marriage is defined as between one man and one woman,” Rep. Akins said. “The use of federal property or federal employees to perform gay marriage ceremonies is a clear contravention of the law.” Rep. Akins is the sponsor of an amendment to H.R. 1540The FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the U.S. House in May 2011 and specifies that, “federal employees and federal property can only be used to support marriages that are consistent with DOMA.” The amendment is Section 535 of H.R. 1540.
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