May 9, 2011 at 8:17 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
House defense committee to vote on anti-gay amendments

Amendments that could disrupt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and mandate that marriages on military bases comply with the Defense of Marriage Act are set to see votes on Wednesday when a House defense panel takes up major Pentagon budget legislation.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and opponent of gays in the military, plans to introduce an amendment aimed at derailing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal by expanding the certification requirement to include input from the four military service chiefs.

In a statement Monday, Hunter announced he would introduce the amendment to expand the certification requirement during the House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill. The measure would interfere with the repeal law that President Obama signed in December, which allows for implementation of open service after 60 days pass following certification from the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The four military service chiefs are far more closely connected to the day-to-day realities facing each respective service branch than those who are currently required to sign off on the repeal — including the president,” said Hunter said. “The president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs should all take part in the certification process, but excluding the service chiefs is a mistake.”

Hunter, who introduced standalone legislation earlier this year mirroring the planned amendment, added the military service chiefs may agree to enact repeal at the same time as the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or they “may have other recommendations for implementation and timing.”

The Hunter amendment could be one among several amendments that could be introduced by opponents of gays in the military to disrupt the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal process. Informed sources said other measures could be an outright abrogation of the repeal measure that Congress passed and Obama signed last year as opposed to merely implementing a certification expansion.

Involving the military service chiefs in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal certification process could disrupt or delay open service in the U.S. military because some uniform leaders of the military — notably Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos — expressed opposition to passing repeal legislation last year. Amos has since said the Marine Corps would work to implement open service.

Despite the qualms that were expressed last year, each of the service chiefs testified in April that the process for enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has been proceeding smoothly. Some service chiefs — including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead — have said they oppose any effort to expand the certification requirement and they believe the defense secretary would adequately represent their views in the certification process.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he thinks the Hunter amendment is an attempt at a “do over strategy” because Republicans didn’t get what they wanted when the last Congress passed legislation allowing for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“It just seems like they didn’t like the outcome, so now they’re trying to get another bite at the apple,” Sainz said.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said those who worked for legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” plan to send a letter in opposition to the Hunter measure and similar amendments before the committee markup.

“We’re simply going to members of the House Armed Services Committee saying don’t allow or take into consideration amendments that would be anything seen as repealing repeal,” Cooper said.

Despite efforts from advocates, if the Hunter amendment is supported in committee along party lines, the measure would likely pass because Republicans enjoy a majority on the panel by a margin of 35-27. After the defense authorization bill is reported to the House floor, a similar vote of approval could be expected on the House floor because Republican have control of the chamber. The bill could see a House floor vote as early as the week of May 23.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he fears the committee has sufficient votes to pass Hunter’s amendment.

“The reality is if the majority in the chamber want to move that amendment they can adopt it successfully,” Sarvis said.

But Cooper said he doesn’t think the support is present in committee to approve the Hunter amendment because defense officials have said the current repeal process is working.

“I don’t think the votes are there,” Cooper said. “I think it would be pretty short-sighted for some of those folks to actually take a vote on something that has had such positive reporting from the [Defense] Department.”

Even if House Republicans are successful in approving the expanded certification measure as part of their defense authorization bill, passing such a provision into law would be challenging because the Senate would agree to it during conference negotiations and Obama would have to sign the measure.

Further, defense officials have testified that certification could happen mid-summer, and the final version of the defense authorization will likely not reach the president’s desk until after that time, rendering Hunter’s provision useless.

Sarvis said the Senate schedule won’t allow for floor consideration of the defense authorization bill until July and the conference committee at the earliest would be in late September or October.

“If we have certification this summer, the 60 days may well have run before the September-October conference,” Sarvis said. “And, I think — the authors of some of these ‘delay-derail’ amendments — they know that.”

Sainz also noted that Republicans are going to have a problem in passing the amendment into law because it runs contrary to the previously stated Republican emphasis on economic issues during the 2010 election.

“This is a complete and total diversion from the American people’s priorities on the economy, jobs and dinner table issues,” Sainz said. “The American public does not believe that this issue needs to be considered once again, and we will make sure the people understand that this is a complete and total disconnect from what the priorities should be.”

Akin plans measure to prevent same-sex marriage at bases

Another planned amendment follows controversy in the wake of new Navy policy guidance stating that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would enable same-sex marriage ceremonies to take place on military facilities and that Navy chaplains can officiate over these ceremonies.

Steve Taylor, a spokesperson for Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), said his boss intends to introduce a measure that would rollback the new guidance issued by the Navy.

“He intends to offer an amendment Wednesday,” Taylor said. “It would say that marriages [are] allowed to be performed on bases when they comply with DOMA.”

According to the Navy memo, which is dated April 13 and signed by Chief of Navy Chaplains Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, the new guidance was issued after the Navy conducted legal review of the issue of same-sex marriages and questions emerged related to same-sex marriage during the initial course of Navy training for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

The guidance states that use of base facilities is “sexual orientation neutral” on the issue using base facilities for same-sex marriage.

“If the base is located in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, then base facilities may normally be used to celebrate the marriage,” the memo states.

Additionally, the memo says Navy chaplains are allowed to perform same-sex marriages in their official capacity if they chose to do so.

“Regarding chaplain participation, consistent with the tenets of his or her religious organization, a chaplain may officiate a same-sex, civil marriage: if it is conducted in accordance with the laws of a state which permits same-sex marriages or union; and if the chaplain is, according to applicable state and local laws, otherwise fully certified to officiate that state’s marriage,” the memo states.

The memo states that the guidance with regarding to having same-sex marriages on base is a change to earlier training, which stated that same-sex marriages aren’t permitted on federal property. According to the memo, the guidance for chaplains is not a change, but “a clearer, more concise and up to date articulation” of policy.

Following the emergence of the letter this week, Akin and 62 other Republican U.S. members wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in a letter dated May 6 stating the policy change doesn’t comply with DOMA.

“We find it difficult to understand how the military is somehow exempt from abiding by federal law,” the letter states. “Not only does this document imply recognition and support of same-sex marriages, but it also implies that the Navy will now perform these marriages so long as they do not violate state statutes.”

The letter adds that DOMA “protects the sanctity of the bond specifically between a man and a woman” and continues that “as defenders of the institution of marriage we agree with the vast majority of the American people that the preservation of marriage is critical to society’s stability and is in the best interest of American families.”

Despite the letter, several recent polls have found that a majority of the American public now supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. A poll last month from CNN found that 51 percent of American believes marriages between gay and lesbian couples “should be recognized by the law as valid” while 47 percent remain opposed.

Sarvis said the memo is being circulating on Capitol Hill by anti-gay activists seeking to invoke the more controversial debate on same-sex marriage in an attempt to disrupt to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“The operative word in that letter is ‘may,'” Sarvis said. “They ‘may’ use the facilities. The chaplain ‘may’ elect to marry two gay service members on post if marriage is permitted by state law in that state.”

Sarvis added no chaplain is required to marry anyone — regardless of whether the marriage is same-sex or opposite-sex — if the chaplain has an objection to the union. Further, Sarvis said that no language in DOMA speaks to facilities on military installations.

However, Sarvis said the committee would pass the amendment if House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) characterizes it as a party-line vote for Republican committee members.

“If the chairman of the committee positions it as a party-line, then the numbers on the committee would indicate that such an amendment would likely pass by party-line, and, who knows, it could pick up a couple Democrats,” Sarvis said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • The bigots shall fail. The gays will live equally protected under the law. The law is where the power is, not personal opinions. The federal court system shall facilitate legal equality. Get ready!

  • Gee, I wonder what will happen when these senators find out that the IRS is also respecting state laws by requiring (same-sex) Nevada, Washington, and California domestic partners to file according to IRS publication 555?

  • ““We find it difficult to understand how the military is somehow exempt from abiding by federal law,””

    LMAO. The military is exempt from federal law! Did you not go to school? The US military is a separate institution not governed by federal law. Why do you think they can have their own rules that violate the US Constitution?

  • ““We find it difficult to understand how the military is somehow exempt from abiding by federal law,””

    Federal Law states the Government can not discriminate based on Sexual Orientation, doesn’t that contradict DADT? The US Military is exempt from Federal Law, go back to school!

  • What a load of crap. I’m 100% certain that same-sex marriages have been performed on federal property before. It’s just a ceremony for FSM’s sake. DOMA doesn’t prevent ceremonies from being conducted. All it means that there won’t be -legal- recognition of the marriage. That’s an entirely different matter.

  • The IRS is now “recognizing” the common property of Spouses and Partners and THIS is not a problem as it relates to DOMA?

    It is evidently a problem to recognize those marriages/partnerships when it comes to Distributing Federal Benefits and Protections.

    If those relationships are recognized by the state (such as California) AND THEN the Fed/IRS “recognizes” the common property status Created By those relationships, (recognized by extension but none-the-less Recognized) then how pray tell is it any different for One Department of the Federal Gov’t (IRS), to be recognizing status created by Marital and Partnered relationships, for the purpose of tax collection in this case, but Other Departments may not recognize status Created By these relationships?

    Isn’t Status likewise created in said states, which could be similarly recognized as it applies to Inheritance Tax? to Social Security? etc?

    It appears as though the Fed is acknowledging status/circumventing DOMA in ONE area, but not in others.

  • Poor stupid ultra-conservatives, this is why the COURT CASE on DADT repeal has NOT been closed and abandoned. The pro-gay were just waiting for you to do something like this, and the moment you try to disrupt DADT, that COURT CASE will resume and will continue to be fought. They knew it, they knew you’d try something like this and that is the specific reason that the case was NOT closed. That case is active and will continue to be fought the very second you succeed in doing anything of this sort. Have fun with that.

  • Also, the State Department (by simple order from the top) offers benefits to same-sex couples that the military doesn’t. Not the big stuff like health insurance, but access to facilities, housing or relocation assistance. That’s apparently not in violation of DOMA and no one has complained. Just shows that the law is less restrictive than many people interpret it as.

  • DOMA says the federal government cannot recognize a same-sex marriage, but this ammendment goes MUCH further. In addition to not recognizing the marriage, it forbids a couple from even having a ceremony–whether or not it will ultimately be recognized. So, now a same-sex couple can’t even walk down an aisle in a post chapel? From these bigots’ perspectives, it’s not a marriage anyway, so what’s their problem? This amendment violates so many aspects of the Constitution.

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