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Religious Tolerance logo


2011-MAY-OCT: Allowing military chaplains to
conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies

2. Permission suspended and later reinstated.
Reactions by conservative Christian chaplains.

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We use the acronym "SSM" throughout this section to represent "same-sex marriage"
"LGB" refers to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.
"DOMA" refers to the Defense of Marriage Act

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This topic is continued from Part 1

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2011-MAY-11: Rear Admiral M.L. Tidd's memo suspended:

One day after the House Republicans' letter, the Navy confirmed that, after discussions with Department of Defense lawyers, they withdrew Rear Admiral Tidd's memo. Tidd said that his memo was suspended "... until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and inter-Departmental coordination." 1

Pentagon spokesperson Col. Dave Lapan told reporters:

"There was some attention on the Hill. That raised the issue so that the (Pentagon) legal counsel then again took a look (and) determined it needed further review."

The head of the Center for Military Readiness, Elaine Donnelly, -- a group that supported DADT -- said that the controversy should push Congress to intervene quickly. She said:

"Congress should not be misled by the Navy's equivocation. This weather-vane policy is likely to change back as soon as all the branches of service get on board and Congress looks the other way. ... Congress must intervene since the Defense Department lawyers don't know -- or don't want to tell -- what they are doing."

Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson -- an anti DADT group -- said that the Navy was within its rights on same-sex marriage policy. He said that the Pentagon should not be distracted by "pressure from reactionaries." 1

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2011-SEP-21: USA: Memo reinstated. Once more, military facilities can be used for private LGBT functions:

Following the suspension of the DADT policy, Department of Defense general counsel Jeh Johnson issued a facilities memo reinstating the use of military facilities for same-sex weddings. He stated 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. Further, private functions are not official activities of the Department of Defense. Thus, the act of making DoD property available for private functions, including religious and other activities, does not constitute an endorsement of the activities by DoD." 2

This is a generic letter covering all private functions. Although not stated, this presumably includes permission to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.

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2011-SEP-30: Under Secretary of Defense Clifford L. Stanley issues memo authorizing marriage and other ceremonies:

His memo stated:

"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. Finally, a military chaplain's participation in a private ceremony does not constitute an endorsement of the ceremony by DoD." 6

According to Christianity Today, an evangelical Christian magazine:

"The Pentagon says Defense Department property may be used for private functions as long as it is in line with the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and local laws. Five states recognize same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont." 4

Christianity Today's list of states that have legalized SSM is correct. However, they did not mention the District of Columbia which also makes SSMs available.

Actually, Stanley's memo makes no mention of the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA requires the federal government to financially ignore married same-sex couples by withholding protections, benefits, etc. that are automatically given to opposite-sex couples. It leaves marriage licenses and registrations up to the District of Columbia and the individual states. No clause in DOMA would seem to relate to marriage ceremonies on DoD property and/or by chaplains.

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Reaction by an alliance of military chaplains:

About two thousand of the 5,000 military chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces belong to the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.

On the topic of religious liberty and freedom, we have noted elsewhere on this web site:

"... a radical shift in the concept of religious freedom.

  • FROM the freedom of religious belief and practice by believers who were threatened by outside oppression. (Historically attacks on religious freedom came from governments and larger faith groups.)

  • TO the freedom by believers to oppress denigrate others outside their group -- to discriminate against them, and to mount political campaigns to deny them equal rights. (Typically, in recent years, their victims have been members of sexual minorities.)

Religious freedom once referred mostly to the freedom of various faith groups to express ideas and to engage in religious practices . Now it is becoming mostly about the freedom for individuals and religious groups to take actions that limit other people's rights and freedoms without incurring negative consequences themselves."

Along with this concern over their own religious freedom and liberty to discriminate against others, many religious conservatives are worried about their public image. Many fear that with the increasing acceptance of homosexual orientation as simply a normal and natural sexual orientation for a minority of adults, their position will be considered a form of bigotry by others. This has happened in the case of racism, sexism, and what we call religism ("the expression of fear towards, hatred towards, or discrimination against, persons of a specific religion affiliation, usually a minority faith.") The same charge of bigotry may develop over homophobia ("the expression of fear towards, hatred towards, or discrimination against, persons of a specific sexual orientation, usually a minority orientation.")

The Christian Post reports that the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty is concerned that the Pentagon allows chaplains to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies. They have two concerns:

  • "Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty and a retired Army chaplain said, 'By dishonestly sanctioning the use of federal facilities for ‘marriage counterfeits’ that federal law and the vast majority of Americans have rejected, the Pentagon has launched a direct assault on the fundamental unit of society -– husband and wife."

  • Crews told The Christian Post: "... we’re concerned that chaplains who refuse to perform the ceremonies will not be considered what the military calls, 'a team player.' There’s an unspoken rule that you’ve got to go along with the system if you want to advance and I’ve already heard rumblings that some chaplains are been reassigned for forwarding certain emails on the issue." 5

The Christian Post did not provide any indication whether the alleged chaplains' reassignments were related to the emails, or whether they were simply routine relocations.

His first statement about "the vast majority of Americans" apparently refers to the majority of states that have banned SSMs. However, a more accurate measure of American adults' acceptance and rejection of SSM is seen in national polling data. Recent polls show about 53% of adults favor SSM while about 45% oppose it; this is a margin of about 8 percentage points -- a number that is growing. Further, there has been a continual rise in acceptance and a continual drop in opposition for more than the past two decades.

His second statement clearly indicates a concern that chaplains may lose the religious freedom to continue discriminating against the LGBT community.

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council said:

"It is outrageous that only 10 days after the repeal of the law against homosexuality in the armed forces, the Department of Defense is already pushing the military further down the slippery slope. The repeal law passed by the lame-duck Congress last year said nothing about authorizing same-sex ‘weddings’ on military bases or by military chaplains." 5

Perkins is absolutely correct that the bill passed by Congress did not mention same-sex weddings by chaplains, nor did it mention such weddings on military bases. However, the law did say that after the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy was terminated, service members of all sexual orentations could freely serve. Since some base facilities are open for private ceremonies such as opposite-sex weddings, it would appear to be a logical conclusion that SSM ceremonies would be available as well.

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This topic is continued in Part 3

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Charley Keyes, "Navy reverses itself on gay marriages on military bases," CNN, 2011-MAY-11, at:
  2. Jeh Johnson, "Uses of DoD facilities," General Counsel of the Department of Defense, 2011-SEP-21, at:
  3. Clifford Stanley, "Military Chaplains," Under Secretary of Defense, 2011-SEP-30, at:
  4. Sarah Pulliam Bailey, "Military Chaplains allowed to perform gay weddings," Christianity Today, 2011-SEP-30, at:
  5. Paul Stanley, "Evangelical Chaplains Refuse to Marry Gay Couples on Military Bases," The Christian Post, 2011-OCT-06, at: **

** Warning: We often receive "Reported Attack Page" warnings from Google when accessing many Christian Post articles. The notice on 2011-OCT-31 stated: "Site is listed as suspicious - visiting this web site may harm your computer. Part of this site was listed for suspicious activity 2 time(s) over the past 90 days." We recommend caution."

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-OCT-31
Author: B.A. Robinson
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