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Pentagon gives military chaplains approval to perform same-sex weddings

Friday, September 30, 2011
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense on Friday announced that the Chaplain Corps of the Armed Forces are authorized to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies for same-sex military couples in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

According to a memorandum issued by Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford L. Stanley:

“A military chaplain may participate in or officiate any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law.

Further, a chaplain is not required 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.”

Also released by the Pentagon Friday is a facilities memo signed by DOD General Legal Counsel Jeh Johnson, who wrote that “military facilities for private functions, including religious and other ceremonies, should be made on a ‘sexual-orientation neutral’ basis, provided such use is not prohibited by applicable state and local laws.”

The policies echo a determination made last April by the Navy Chief of Chaplains Rear Admiral Mark L. Tidd, who in a memo clarified after gaining the advice of the Defense Department’s legal counsel that individual chaplains would be permitted — and expressly not obligated — to officiate weddings for gay and lesbian service members at base facilities in states that allow marriage for same-sex couples.

Admiral Tidd later suspended his memorandum after social conservative groups and a group of 63 House Republicans criticized his guidance, claiming it violated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Friday’s actions by the Pentagon faces opposition from religious organizations, and conservative Republicans who have raised the argument that this policies clashes with DOMA.

The announcement coincided with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen’s retirement from active service. Mullen’s personal support for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” gave a crucial boost to the repeal movement.

“We are pleased the Department of Defense has made it clear that a military Chaplain is allowed to perform any lawful ceremony that is consistent with his or her beliefs and is not required to perform a ceremony that is inconsistent with those beliefs,” said Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, in a statement.

“The guidance issued today strikes the right balance between respecting the faith traditions of chaplains and affording all service members the same rights under current law. This is another logical step in the direction of full equality for gay and lesbian service members,” Sarvis said.

“There are many chaplains in the military who simply do not believe that gay and lesbian service members are second-class citizens, and those chaplains should have the freedom to practice their religion as they see fit, including officiating at ceremonies that their denominations recognize,” said Alex Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United.

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