Military Chaplains Will Be Permitted To Perform Same-Sex Marriages

The Pentagon announced yesterday that military chaplains based in states where same-sex marriage is legal will be permitted to officiate at such weddings:

Military chaplains may perform same-sex marriages, even on military bases, in states where such ceremonies are allowed but will not be forced to do so, the Pentagon said Friday.

The decision — which came in a memo from Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness — threatens to reignite the contentious debate in Congress over gays and lesbians in the military. The issue had appeared settled just 10 days ago with the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred openly gay service members.

Conservative lawmakers who opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” had forced the Navy to back down in April when Navy officials recommended allowing chaplains to perform same-sex marriages. On Friday, the same lawmakers immediately denounced the Pentagon’s decision, calling it illegal and saying they would move to block it.

“The Department of Defense has decided to put the White House’s liberal agenda ahead of following the law,” said Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). “The Defense of Marriage Act makes it clear that for the purposes of the federal government, marriage is defined as between one man and one woman. The use of federal property or federal employees to perform gay marriage ceremonies is a clear contravention of the law.”

The constitutionality of the 1996 law is in doubt after several court rulings against it, and the Obama administration announced in February that it would no longer defend DOMA against challenges. Lawyers for the House of Representatives have stepped in to defend the law, and the issue is eventually expected to reach the Supreme Court.

There does seem to be an odd disconnect here in that the military is allowing its chaplains to solemnize marriages that Federal Law does not recognize, and even perform such ceremonies on military bases. Additionally, these marriages would not be recognized by the military and the parties would not be eligible for the benefits available to other military spouses. At the same time, though, an absolute rule saying that chaplains may not officiate at same-sex weddings at all potentially raises freedom of religion issues with respect to the chaplains themselves.

I suspect we’ll see some in Congress try to step in and block this, but it doesn’t strike me as the kind of measure that will successfully make it all the way through Congress.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Catfish says:

    This is why the federal government needs to get out of this issue. Let each the voters of each state decide, not people in Washington and federal judges.

  2. As the Supreme Court noted in Loving v. Virginia, the issue is not nearly that simple

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:


    Why, I wonder, should it be OK to discriminate against some one in say, Texas, but not OK in Iowa? What kind of logic allows for this? And the tenth amendment does not cover it, we decided that issue back in 1865.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Also, “announced last yesterday” the redundancy of the typo made me laugh Doug.

  5. @OzarkHillbilly:

    Sigh. This is what I get for writing before the coffee kicks in

  6. Racehorse says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: There are some of us who do not want their state to become another San Francisco. If people want that, they are perfectly free to go there and live.

  7. Console says:

    How does the federal government get out of deciding what the federal military can do?

  8. Gustopher says:

    Why can the chaplains not perform religious ceremonies anywhere, even if the results are not recognized by the state or federal government.

    This very limited approval seems to interfere with the chaplain’s religious freedoms.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    There are some of us who do not want their state to become another San Francisco Alabama. If people want that, they are perfectly free to go there and live.

  10. de stijl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As the Supreme Court noted in Loving v. Virginia, the issue is not nearly that simple

    It is pretty simple. It’s called the 14th Amendment.