The U.S. House on Friday passed major defense budget legislation aimed at authorizing funds for the Pentagon that was inclusive of language restricting LGBT rights.
By a vote of 299-120, the Republican-controlled House approved its version of the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill. The $642 billion package aims to provide funding for military programs and pay for service members, but includes anti-gay provisions that were adopted by the House Armed Services Committee during its markup of the legislation.
One provision in the bill, the “conscience protections,” is for military personnel and chaplains who object to homosexuality. Under the language, service members could harass gay colleagues and chaplains could discriminate against service members by religion, gender, sexual orientation or race.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he’s “disappointed” the language was included in the legislation passed by the House.
“The fact of the matter is, there are already in place adequate protections for chaplains and service members in this area,” Sarvis said. “This language weakens implementation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, which Americans support and which our nation’s military leaders have said is being implementing smoothly.”
Another provision in the bill would prohibit same-sex couples from holding marriage ceremonies on Defense Department property. The Pentagon has previously issued guidance saying such facilities should be available on a sexual orientation neutral basis.
Sarvis also objected to this language in the legislation.
“This is yet another attempt by a few opponents of military equality who are looking to turn the clock back on progress and relegate gay and lesbian service members to second-class status,” Sarvis said.
The White House Office of Management & Budget issued a Statement of Administration Policy earlier this week objecting to the anti-gay provisions, calling language barring same-sex couples from marrying on military bases “potentially unconstitutional.” The White House issued a veto threat on the legislation based on certain provision in the bill, included provisions related to the detention of detainees, but stopped short of explicitly stating the anti-gay language merited a veto.
The Senate has yet to take action on its version of defense authorization legislation for the upcoming fiscal year. Next week, the Senate Armed Forces Committee will begin its markup. Differences between the House and Senate versions will be addressed in conference committee later this year.
Similar anti-gay language was included last year in the previous House version of the defense authorization bill. The language was ultimately removed in conference committee before each chamber voted again to approve the final version of the legislation.
CORRECTION: An initial version of this article incorrectly stated service members could opt out working gay colleagues under the “conscience protections” in the legislation. The Blade regrets the error.