A military chaplain has hit out at those conservatives who would deny gay soldiers a chaplain’s support, saying that to serve military personnel is the purpose of the job, regardless of any personal feelings about same-sex relationships.
Retired Chaplain Lt. Colonel Henry P. Roberson, writing in Stars and Stripes, calls talk regarding chaplain’s rights being infringed by the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal — something he says is unsupported — a distraction from the primary function of chaplains. He also notes that while he as a Catholic is against same-sex marriage, that doesn’t matter. If a soldier wanted a chaplain to officiate his or her same-sex marriage, Roberson would find a chaplain that could.
I served as a Catholic chaplain but took care of everyone of any faith, little faith and no faith. The motto of the chaplaincy is “Perform or provide.” On those rare times when I could not, for whatever reason, take care of the person, I referred them (usually by walking them down the hall) to someone who could take care of them. I never said “no” and left them adrift; it was my duty to make sure that they had what they needed. As a Catholic, I can’t perform same-sex marriage; so I would find a chaplain who could do that. What I think of same-sex marriage does not matter: They have a right to religious support when legal.
Before repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ several chaplains felt that their “religious liberty” permitted them to “out” soldiers who came to them to talk about their sexual orientation. These chaplains apparently felt — wrongly — that the right to confidentiality applied to them, when it belongs solely to the soldier. This is a serious violation of religious and civil liberty, of professional integrity and Army regulation. Chaplains in their basic officer training are instructed on these things; they cannot claim not to have known it.
One wonders what “religious liberty” means to these chaplains. The right to dictate what religious ceremonies others can conduct? The right to walk up to a gay Marine and tell him he’s going to hell?
Roberson goes on to say he feels that such behavior is a “disrespect” to the chaplains’ military brothers and sisters. He calls for respect and tolerance and a reaffirmation of what being a military chaplain is all about: helping support soldiers as they perform their duties.
Religious conservatives in Congress have repeatedly attempted to pass legislation that would enshrine a religious right to discriminate against gay soldiers. They have also sort to create a ban on chaplains marrying same-sex couples on military bases–apparently not recognizing the irony that they are depriving chaplains who are gay affirming the religious liberties they claim to be trying to protect.
The Pentagon has repeatedly said that, as a matter of religious and civil freedom, chaplains may officiate the marriages of same-sex couples in states where marriage equality is legal but, per established law, chaplains are not forced to do so.