Religion in Society

Navy Reverses Course: No to Chaplains Performing Gay Marriage

| by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy rescinded May 10 its permission for chaplains to perform "same-sex marriage" ceremonies on base when the ban on open homosexuality in the military is lifted. The switch came after members of Congress charged the change in policy violates the federal Defense of Marriage Act.


Chief of Chaplains Rear Adm. Mark Tidd reversed course after his April 13 memo became publicized May 9 and drew a sharp rebuke from more than 60 representatives. Tidd said late May 10 he was suspending his authorization "pending additional legal and policy review" and enhanced cooperation with other branches of the military, according to The Washington Post.

News media coverage and the outcry from Congress caused armed forces lawyers to review Tidd's memo, a Pentagon spokesman acknowledged, according to The Post. "That raised the issue, so the [Navy] legal counsel looked at it and determined it needed further review," Col. Dave Lapan said.

In his April memo, Tidd authorized Navy chaplains to officiate at on-base, same-sex ceremonies in states where such unions are allowed. He also said naval base facilities "may normally be used to celebrate the marriage" if the base is in a state that has legalized "same-sex marriage."

Sixty-three members of the House of Representatives complained to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus after Tidd's memo was revealed. Led by Rep. Todd Akin, R.-Mo., the representatives said they "find it difficult to understand how the military is somehow exempt from abiding by" the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA, which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, defines marriage in federal law as being between a man and a woman and empowers states to refuse to recognize another state's "gay marriages."

"Offering up federal facilities and federal employees for same-sex marriages violates DOMA, which is still the law of the land and binds our military, including chaplains," the House members told Mabus in a May 6 letter.

Akin said in a statement released May 9 with the letter, "While a state may legalize same-sex marriage, federal property and federal employees, like Navy chaplains, should not be used to perform marriages that are not recognized by federal law."

On May 11, Akin was expected to introduce amendments in the House Armed Services Committee to the yearly Defense authorization bill that would ban military chaplains from performing "same-sex marriages" and bar the use of armed services facilities for such ceremonies, according to The Post.

After Tidd's memo was publicized, a Navy spokeswoman told the Navy Times chaplains would not be required to perform "gay marriages."

The Navy's initial response to the House complaint actually made things worse, said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. In his reaction to news of the memo, Perkins cited a Navy statement, which he said included: "If the chaplain declines to personally perform the service, then the chaplain MUST facilitate the request ... "

Perkins said, "That's a big leap from simply allowing the ceremonies to take place. As much as the weddings violate DOMA, the referral order is a direct assault on the freedom of conscience. And it it's enforced, it could be what drives evangelical chaplains out of the military altogether."

If the Navy proceeds with a policy change for its chaplains, it will not take effect until President Obama, as well as the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, certify that terminating the prohibition on open homosexuality will not harm the military.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell barred homosexuals from serving openly but also prohibited military commanders from asking service members if they are homosexual or about their "sexual orientation."

Critics of the new law terminating Don't Ask, Don't Tell have warned it will result in infringements on religious liberty, as well as harm to the readiness, privacy and retention of service members.