Navy Chaplains May Perform Gay Marriages

The Navy is considering allowing its chaplains to perform same-sex marriages once "Dont ask, Don't tell" ends.

The Navy is considering allowing its chaplains to perform same-sex marriages once “Dont ask, Don’t tell” ends.

CNN (“Navy plan to allow same-sex marriage on bases draws opposition“):

A preliminary U.S. Navy plan to allow its chaplains to perform same-sex marriages in military chapels after the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” has fired up congressional opposition.

All services are moving forward with the transition from the present ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform. Top Pentagon officials are expected to sign off on the new rules and the progress of training in coming weeks.

An April 13 memo from the Navy officer in charge of chaplains says they “may” officiate at same-sex marriages or civil unions, depending on both local laws and their religious organization.

It is not clear if the other services would have a similar provision.

“Regarding the use of base facilities for same-sex marriages, legal counsel has concluded that, generally speaking, base facility use is sexual orientation-neutral,” Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, the Navy’s chief of chaplains, said in the memo. “This is a change to previous training that stated same-sex marriages are not authorized on federal property.”

After the pending rule change was reported in the Navy Times and Stars and Stripes newspapers, it drew criticism from dozens of members of Congress. A letter from Rep. Todd Akin, R-Missouri, to the secretary of the Navy asking him to block the change has been signed by 63 members of Congress, according to Akin’s website. Akin says the Navy’s permission for gay weddings in military chapels, once the current policy formally is ended, would violate the federal Defense of Marriage Act. “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,” Akin said on his website. “My colleagues and I are calling on the secretary of the Navy to make sure that the Navy actually follows the law. As we state in the letter, ‘It is not the place of any citizen of this country to pick and choose which laws they are going to obey. We expect citizens sworn to defend those laws to set the example in their application.'”

The Pentagon said in a statement Monday that the Defense of Marriage Act “does not limit the type of religious ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military installation.” However, while the Defense of Marriage Act still stands, the Defense Department would not recognize those unions as valid marriages even if they’re performed in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages.

Cmdr. Danny Hernandez, the Navy’s assistant chief of information, told CNN that under the same-sex marriage proposal, each chaplain would be bound by his own religious beliefs. “A chaplain can conduct a same-sex ceremony if it is in the tenets of his faith,” Hernandez said.

And he said the policy would have no impact on military benefits. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others announced that the Pentagon would end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, they made it clear that benefits for spouses and survivors are a complicated issue that would require more study and planning.

This policy change makes no sense in the current context. If implemented, the United States Navy–an arm of the federal government–would be performing marriages not recognized by said government. And the Navy would conceivably by marrying two sailors–or two Marines!–and yet not considering them married for the purpose of monthly allowances and survivor benefits? . Oh: And the Navy would be performing gay marriages while the other Services aren’t? That would, to say the least, be bizarre

Now, DOMA is likely even less constitutional than DADT was. But, until we either repeal the law or it’s struck down by the courts, the Navy has to abide by it.

via Joshua Foust

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Military Affairs, Quick Takes, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Simon says:

    Presumably the change is permissive rather than directory, so I wonder what the big deal is when no chaplains—except possibly the episcopalians—would be willing to perform the “marriages”? Or do we suppose that a memo from the Navy officer in charge of chaplains will persuade Jews, Christians, and Muslims to change centuries of teaching on this point?

  2. TG Chicago says:

    Is it okay for chaplains to conduct other religious ceremonies that have no legal impact? Such as funerals, christenings, confirmations, communion, etc?

    Yes, it is. Thus, this is really not so bizarre. The Navy is not refusing to abide by any laws. They’re taking the very logical step of separating legal marriage from religious marriage.

    Are you saying that the state should get involved in whether a religious leader can perform a benign religious ceremony? Should the state be able to dictate who can receive communion?

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Simon: It’s definitely permissive. But why allow something that’s illegal?

    @TG Chicago: We’re not talking about country preachers but rather United States Naval officers. The Navy shouldn’t have officers performing services that go against federal law. It’s simply bizarre for a Navy officer to marry two sailors and then not have the Navy recognize the resulting marriage.

  4. sam says:

    Nice picture, JJ.

  5. sam says:

    Your picture, I meant…

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Sam: Thanks. The old was was getting pretty dated and I added the beard over Christmas, so it was time for an update. Most recent photos of me feature a kid, so I had to actually pose for this one yesterday.

  7. Vast Variety says:

    And thus this whole ordeal points to the abject stupidity of not allowing same sex couples to marry in this country.

  8. TG Chicago says:

    The Navy shouldn’t have officers performing services that go against federal law.

    So there’s a law that dictates what religious services can take place?

    It’s true that same-sex couples married this way will not get a state-issued marriage license. But just because it takes place outside federal law (as most religious services do) does not mean it goes against federal law.

    It’s simply bizarre for a Navy officer to marry two sailors and then not have the Navy recognize the resulting marriage.

    I agree that it’s bizarre that the laws do not currently allow the Navy to recognize the marriage. However, it’s irrelevant to whether the ceremony should be allowed. The fact that the Navy does not recognize bar mitzvahs doesn’t mean it’s illegal for chaplains to officiate them.

    Or, as the the Pentagon said: the Defense of Marriage Act “does not limit the type of religious ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military installation.”

  9. Southern Hoosier says:

    I wonder what state the Chaplains will perform gay marriages in?

  10. Southern Hoosier says:

    Navy reverses itself on gay marriages on military bases

    http://edition.cnn.com/2011/US/05/11/navy.same.sex.marriages/