The leading House Republican on defense issues has threatened to kill passage of annual defense policy legislation if it lacks language blocking military chaplains from performing same-sex weddings.
House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Friday in a taped interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that he’d rather see no version of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill passed at all rather one that doesn’t prevent chaplains from marrying gay couples, according to the The Hill newspaper.
“This was one of the concerns that we had – that we were rushing this, to eliminate this, before we had fully prepared things, and DOMA is the law of the land,” McKeon said, referencing the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Last week, the Pentagon issued guidance allowing chaplains to perform same-sex weddings, if they so choose, and allowing the use of base facilities for these ceremonies.
The House in May approved a version of the defense bill that would rollback the Pentagon guidance by prohibiting chaplains or base facilities from being involved in same-sex weddings. The provision was adopted in committee as an amendment by Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.)
The measure also contains language reaffirming the Defense Department must abide by DOMA. The language was also adopted in committee as an amendment by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.)
The Senate Armed Services Committee in June left out these provisions in its version of the defense bill, but the full measure has yet to reach the Senate floor.
McKeon also reportedly said he’d rather see Congress fail to pass a defense measure for the first time in a half-century if he had to give in on a provision in the Senate bill effectively banning many terrorism suspects from obtaining trials in civilian court.
McKeon reportedly said he hopes the Senate will come to the side of the House on the marriage and detainee issues.
Specifically on marriage, McKeon reportedly said, “I’m hopeful that the Senate will look at those votes and will understand our feelings on this issue.”
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, chastised McKeon for saying he’d put the Pentagon budget at risk over the ability of chaplains to perform same-sex marriages.
“It’s nothing short of shameful that the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, charged with protecting and authorizing funding for our nation’s service members at war, would be willing to put at risk the equipment and supplies they need in order to advance his own narrow, social agenda,” Sarvis said.
If the full Senate passes the measure as approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the marriage issues would have to be hammered out between the House and Senate in conference committee.
In a news conference last month, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) pledged to work against the anti-gay provisions from being part of the defense bill when asked about the issue by The Advocate.
“We will fight against those amendments and do everything we can to make sure that they don’t appear either in the Senate bill or on the floor,” as well as in conference committee for the bill, Levin said.
The Pentagon guidance allowing chaplains to officiate over same-sex weddings has become a rallying cry for social conservatives seeking unseat President Obama during the 2012 election.
During the 2011 Value Voters Summit, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum mischaracterized the guidance by saying the Obama administration “instructed” chaplains to perform these same-sex weddings when in fact they have option to do so.
Santorum added this decision from Obama is “worse than” his decision to abandon defense of DOMA in court.
“He has instructed his military chaplains to marry people, in direct contravention — marry gays and lesbians in direct contravention to the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in federal law as between a man and a woman,” Santorum said. “So not only did the president not defend the law, he has now instructed people in the military to break the law.
LGBT advocates have said allowing military chaplains to marry same-sex couples is consistent with DOMA because the anti-gay law makes no mention of couples that chaplains are able to marry.
Former Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, who came under fire last year for speaking out against open service and asking people to call on Congress to reject “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, also decried the guidance during the summit.
“What kind of position is this to put chaplains in to have to make that kind of decision inside this unit?” Mixon said. “It is unfair to our service members to put them in that kind of position whether it would be a violation of their religious beliefs of their moral conscience. We owe our service members more than that, and we need to work to provide that guidance and oversight to each and every one of our service members.”