A group of religious conservatives have threatened legal action if Senate lawmakers do not pass the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 with amendments made by the Republican-controlled U.S. House that forbid Defense Department employees from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies and the use of military spaces for such purposes.
This, they say, is to protect chaplains and servicemembers and their right to object to same-sex partnerships, but the Department of Defense says this is unnecessary as the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell rule will not affect rights of freedom of expression as they currently stand in the military.
The annual defense authorization bill, which sets military policy for the following year, passed the House on Thursday with bipartisan support. Among hundreds of spending and policy provisions, the language backed by activists would bar service members and civilian Defense Department workers from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies on military property.
The Navy’s proposed policy would make it difficult for military chaplains to fulfill their dual obligations as religious leaders and service members, according to the leaders of 21 Christian organizations who wrote this week to the top chaplains for the Air Force, Army and Navy. The groups select and endorse military chaplains to represent their denominations.
“We are genuinely concerned that this might be a sign of things to come,” the leaders wrote, requesting explicit conscience protections for chaplains.
But Pentagon policies regarding service members’ individual expression and the free exercise of religion already exist, Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.
“There will be no changes,” Lainez said in an e-mail. “In today’s military, people of different moral and religious values work, live and fight together; this is possible because they treat each other with dignity and respect.”
These assurances have not stopped the religious conservative legal group Alliance Defense Fund from openly declaring that it will sue if the amendments do not pass, with Austin Nimocks, senior counsel, quoted as saying: “If the Senate does not follow the House and protect chaplains and service members, we have no doubt that legal action will be required.”
The Alliance Defense Fund has not yet offered on what grounds they will sue or how they will prove that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and allowances made for chaplains to perform same-sex marriages in states where it is legal — should they wish to — amounts to an abridgment of religious freedom of speech or conscience.
The amendments in question would serve to bolster restrictions created by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
One amendment that was offered by Representative Vicky Hartzier (R-Mo) would ban Department of Defense staff from participating in same-sex marriages.
This is in direct response to the Navy telling military chaplains in April that, if they so wished, they would be permitted to perform same-sex marriages in states that have legalized the unions, once the DADT policy is retired. The Navy quickly withdrew said guidance pending further legal advice after religious conservative groups raged that this violates the Defense of Marriage Act.
The other amendment offered by Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo) would prohibit military facilities being used for same-sex marriage ceremonies — even in states that allow said marriages. As such, both of these amendments would serve to broaden the scope of restrictions under DOMA and the latter would seem to impinge state sovereignty, something that has featured heavily in federal lawsuits against DOMA thus far.
Other conservative groups are still predicting a mass exodus form the military due to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” though military leaders have all said that, since repeal implementation began, they have seen little impact on military recruitment and retention. Repeal certification is expected to go ahead this summer.
One further amendment regarding DADT repeal was also passed by the House. Offered by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the amendment is designed to slow down the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by requiring all four service chiefs to certify the repeal. Currently, only the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are required to sign off on the change at which time a sixty day countdown to repeal will begin.
The U.S. House passed the budget bill with the above amendments in a 322-96 vote.
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