HRC Blog

House Republicans Play Politics with Service Members

United States CapitolLate this evening, the House Armed Services Committee adopted two anti-LGBT amendments during the markup of the National Defense Authorization Act.

One amendment, offered by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), discriminates against lesbian and gay service members by preventing them from using military facilities for weddings or commitment ceremonies – a privilege available to their heterosexual peers.  This amendment contravenes a Department of Defense memorandum, which instructs DOD to make all facilities open for private functions on a sexual-orientation neutral basis.  Proponents of the amendment argued that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits military facilities from being used for same-sex marriages.  However, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) clarified that while DOMA prohibits recognition of marriages between same-sex couples under federal laws and regulations, access to a federal facility for a marriage ceremony does not constitute recognition of that marriage by the federal government.  The amendment was adopted 37 – 24.

The second amendment, offered by Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), requires the military to accommodate the religious and moral beliefs of service members on topics of human sexuality.  It isn’t clear how these beliefs are to be accommodated or what beliefs on human sexuality are to be accommodated.  Should a service member be allowed to change living situations if she objects to a roommate’s use of birth control?  Should a service member be allowed to change units if he objects to a colleague’s engagement in premarital sex?  Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) argued that this amendment provides space for service members to mask anti-LGBT speech and actions behind a thin veil of religious or moral objection to lesbian and gay individuals.

Rep. Akin’s amendment also allows chaplains to reject performing a service contrary to the chaplain’s beliefs or the beliefs of the chaplain’s faith group.  This is problematic because military chaplains serve people of denominations and faiths that may be different from their own.  A Christian chaplain must be able to give counsel to a Muslim service member experiencing a crisis.  On the battlefield, a Jewish chaplain must be able to facilitate a memorial service for a slain Christian service member.  Forcing DOD to issue regulations that allow chaplains to refuse to serve those they disagree with creates a slippery slope that leads to a chaplaincy unprepared to aid the pluralistic constituency it serves.  In addition, a DOD memorandum already makes clear that “a chaplain is not require to participate in or officiate a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion or personal beliefs”. Additional regulations in this area have no purpose unless they are meant to allow chaplains to pick and choose who they serve.  Rep Akin’s amendment was adopted 36 – 25.  

The National Defense Authorization Act will move forward for a vote by the full House.  HRC will work with our Senate allies to keep this anti-LGBT language out of the Senate version of the bill.

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