Chaplains can conduct nuptials for gays

September 30, 2011

Military chaplains may officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies on
and off military bases, the Pentagon has announced, in a move that
closely followed the repeal of a ban on openly gay service members.

"A
military chaplain may participate in or officiate at any private
ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the
ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law," wrote
Undersecretary of Defense Clifford L. Stanley.

Stanley's memo was
released Septem­ber 30, only ten days after the repeal of the
Clinton-era Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy. Stanley also said a chaplain is
not required to lead or take part in such ceremonies "if doing so would
be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion or personal
beliefs."

In a separate but related memo, Jeh Johnson, the
Department of Defense's general counsel, said the use of military
facilities for private functions, "including religious and other
ceremonies," should occur on a "sexual-orientation neutral basis."

Tony
Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, decried
the memos as "outrageous" and said "the Defense Department is already
pushing the military further down the slippery slope."

Elaine
Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said the memos
raise questions about how the repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell will be
implemented.

"What happens when the sort-of married couple is
reassigned to a state where same-sex unions are prohibited by law?"
queried Donnelly, whose organization led the charge in trying to
preserve the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Freedom
to Marry, an organization that supports same-sex marriage, hailed the
DOD announcements, even though some gay rights groups have some of the
same questions about the future after Don't Ask/Don't Tell.

"Discrimination
has no place in the military, or in marriage—and of course people, gay
or nongay, should be able to celebrate their love and commitment in
ceremonies without interference by the government," said Evan Wolfson,
the group's founder and president.

Lt. Col. Carleton Birch, a
spokesman for the army chief of chaplains, said Friday that only one
chaplain has left the army in protest of the repeal of Don't Ask/Don't
Tell. In both memos, DOD officials noted that the private activities do
not "constitute an endorsement" by the Pentagon.  —RNS