Chaplains May Marry Soldiers, Same-Sex Spouses
When the Pentagon announced a plan last May to allow military chaplains to perform marriages for gay and lesbian servicemembers and their spouses in marriage equality states, five dozen lawmakers raised such a howl that the military beat a prompt and hasty retreat to study the matter.
Now the Pentagon has come to much the same conclusion as before: Military chaplains will be permitted, but not required, to marry same-sex couples in which at least one partner is a member of the Armed Forces, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sept. 30.
Navy officials initially announced in May that chaplains would be permitted to preside over same-sex marriages in places where marriage equality is legal. A May 10 Associated Press article said that the decision had been made "after questions came up about civil ceremonies for gay couples."
The article added, "In earlier training guidelines issued by the Defense Department and the military services, same-sex marriage ceremonies were not mentioned, and therefore not explicitly prohibited."
Despite a finding that the anti-gay federal law the Defense of Marriage Act--which denies same-sex families any recognition whatsoever on the federal level--would not outlaw services by military chaplains, and despite assurances that no chaplains would be compelled against the tenets of their faith to preside over same-sex weddings, lawmakers piled on the announcement with vitriol and condemnation.
Some anti-gay lawmakers had warned that setting aside Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the anti-gay 1993 law that prohibited service by openly gay and lesbian servicemembers, would lead to a sexualized military in which gays hosted alcohol-fueled orgies instead of attending to the business of defending the nation. Such hysterical pronouncements failed to ignite a broad-based push to prevent the repeal from being finalized.
But the idea of gay servicemembers entering into respectable married life with a military chaplain in attendance seemed to strike a chord among members of Congress, some five-dozen of which instantly decried the decision, disagreeing with the finding that DOMA would prevent marriages by chaplains in states where marriage equality is legal.
"We find it unconscionable that the United States Navy, a federal entity sworn to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States, believes it is their place alone to train and direct service members to violate federal law," a letter addressed to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and signed by 63 members of Congress said.
The military beat a full retreat in the face of objections. Some lawmakers expressed a wish to charge into the leadership vacuum and pass a law making it illegal for facilities on military bases to be used for same-sex weddings or civil unions ceremonies.
"In a one-sentence memo obtained by The Associated Press, Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, chief of Navy chaplains, said his earlier decision has been ’suspended until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination,’ " the AP reported the day after the initial announcement.
The repeal of DADT was finalized on Sept. 20. The Pentagon announced its decision on chaplains marrying gay and lesbian servicemembers on Sept. 30, reaffirming that chaplains would be allowed to officiate over weddings for same-sex couples in states where marriage equality is legal. Same-sex weddings will also be allowed to take place on military bases, the Pentagon said.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have extended family parity to gay and lesbian couples. In two of those states, California in 2008 and Maine in 2009, anti-gay ballot initiatives led to the repeal of marriage rights. Marriage remains legal in six states and Washington, D.C., but foes of marriage equality continue to push for the rescinding of marriage in those places.
GLBT equality advocates hailed the decision and framed the issue as a matter of religious freedom for military men of the cloth.
"We applaud the Department of Defense for protecting the religious freedoms of all military chaplains," Joe Solmonese, the head of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a Sept. 30 press release.
"As we move into a new era of open service, today’s decision by the Department of Defense ensures that all military families, including lesbian and gay military families, have equal access to military facilities," Solmonese added.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.