Just over a week after ending its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the Pentagon has released new guidelines permitting military chaplains to perform same-sex marriages in states where gay marriage is legal.
“A military chaplain may participate in or officiate any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law,” a memo released Friday from Under Secretary of Defense Clifford Stanley read.
“Further a chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion.”
The policy allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly went into effect on September 20, much to the chagrin of social conservatives who fear it could be a surreptitious way to normalize, and then legalize, gay marriage nationwide. This most recent decision has predictably roiled those already opposed to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“The Pentagon has clearly overstepped its bounds by declaring that military chaplains can perform same-sex marriages,” said Penny Nance, CEO of the conservative Concerned Women for America.
“As part of the federal government,” Nance told The Daily Caller, “the Department of Defense must abide by federal law including the Defense of Marriage Act, which permits marriage only between one man and one woman. The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.”
Gay marriage advocates cheered the Pentagon memo as a victory for equality.
“Now that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is gone, there is nothing prohibiting chaplains whose denominations do not discriminate from treating same-sex couples equally in accordance with state and local laws,” said Alex Nicholson, executive director for the gay advocacy group Servicemembers United.
“There are many chaplains in the military who simply do not believe that gay and lesbian servicemembers are second-class citizens,” he said, “and those chaplains should have the freedom to practice their religion as they see fit, including officiating at ceremonies that their denominations recognize.”