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Chaplains Say Navy Wedding Policy Confuses a Fraught Debate

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2011 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) A recent Navy memo that would permit military chaplains to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies upon repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy is creating tension amid an already fractious debate.

“It is absolutely deplorable,” said the Rev. Billy Baugham, executive director of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers. “It is a total surprise to us in the sense that we did not know it would really come to this.”

The chief of Navy chaplains announced in an April 13 memo that training materials for the expected repeal have been changed to allow chaplains to officiate at some same-sex ceremonies.

“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,” wrote Navy Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, who added that a chaplain “may officiate” if participation is “consistent with the tenets of his or her religious organization.”

Baugham said leaders of his small, conservative Christian organization will likely assess if they want to continue sending chaplains to the Navy under such a policy, but he expects chaplains already in the services to remain.

Chaplain Mark Schreiber, director of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s military ministry, said chaplains who disagree with the policy will not be forced to officiate at same-sex weddings and he expects “no mass exodus.”

Even so, he has registered his disapproval with the chief of chaplains, and said the policy seems to violate the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

“Base property … is under federal mandate and DOMA has not been repealed,” he said. “Now we’re pitting one entity against the other.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez disagreed, telling the Navy Times: “DOMA does not limit the type of religious ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military installation. Chaplains are authorized to perform religious ceremonies consistent with the practices of the chaplain’s faith group in chapels on military installations.”

Other chaplain endorsers who oppose the new weddings policy hope political pressure may prompt the Navy to reverse course.

Republican critics of both the Navy’s action and the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell repeal are expected to introduce amendments Wednesday (May 11) to the defense authorization bill when it is considered by the House Armed Services Committee.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, which has studied gays in the military, hopes the Republican efforts will fail.

“Republican opposition is not about doing what’s best for the military,” said Belkin, whose think tank is based at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It is the Navy’s, and not the House Republicans’, policy that shows deference to the religious beliefs of the clergy.”



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    If the chaplains in the Navy can’t do their jobs—retirement is always an option.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ned_Flaherty

    Rep. Akins (R-MO) wrote — incorrectly — that respecting military personnel’s religious freedom somehow violates the DOMA law.

    It does not.

    DOMA respects religious freedom. Consequently, it allows same-sex religious ceremonies between people of various faiths and their clergy.

    All of the 65,000 bisexuals, lesbians, and gays now serving in the armed forces have a legal right to a same-sex, religious wedding ceremony in a private chapel in all 21 states that have some form of marriage equality (same-sex marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership): CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA, WI.

    The U.S. military is commanded, staffed, and funded by the American citizenry, and on 18 March 2011, ABC News and Washington Post reported that 53% of Americans support marriage equality for lesbian/gay couples.

    The DOMA law is in the process of being repealed by Congress and/or ruled unconstitutional by the courts because it excludes same-sex couples from the 1,138 federal benefits automatically available to opposite-sex couples.

  • Glen Krans

    I served God and country as a Navy Chaplain for over twenty years. During that time my practice was governed by two things–my endorsing church’s requirements and my own conscience. I joyfully facilitated the free expression of an astounding variety of religious practices. I was grateful for the fact that my church body gave me very wide latitude in matters of pastoral care. During my time in the Reserves as well as my time on active duty, I was faced with the challenges of being told not to pray in Jesus’ name and of ministering to Wiccans and Satanists. God blessed me with Command Chaplains who understood and helped me find a way through the mine-field. If I were still serving on active duty, I don’t think that the challenge of facilitating same-sex marriages would be much different for me. I think Chaplain Schreiber is 100% correct. Our church’s chaplains will find a way to be Jesus’ salt and light no matter where or what. That’s what we do.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Grumpy Old Person

    ““It is absolutely deplorable,” said the Rev. Billy Baugham, executive director of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers. “It is a total surprise to us in the sense that we did not know it would really come to this.””

    This is either disingenuous, naive or an outright falsehood. Equal is equal. Why on earth WOULDN’T it “come to this”?

    “Baugham said leaders of his small, conservative Christian organization will likely assess if they want to continue sending chaplains to the Navy under such a policy, but he expects chaplains already in the services to remain.”

    Chaplains are civil servants, no? By what right can religious tests be applied to hold public office in the first place?

    ““Base property … is under federal mandate and DOMA has not been repealed,” he said. “Now we’re pitting one entity against the other.””

    Sadly, this is true. But it doesn’t address the UN-Constitutionality of the DOMA at all. And THAT’S even sadder.

    ““DOMA does not limit the type of religious ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military installation. Chaplains are authorized to perform religious ceremonies consistent with the practices of the chaplain’s faith group in chapels on military installations.””

    Ms Lainez is WRONG – IF that “religious ceremony” is a same-gender marriage. Military installations ARE under federal mandate, and because teh DOMA has not (yet) been overturned, chaplains – of ANY denomination – are NOT “authorized” to perform them, much as they might like to.

    ““Republican opposition is not about doing what’s best for the military””

    NOR for America.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Grumpy Old Person

    @ Ned Flaherty,

    “DOMA respects religious freedom. Consequently, it allows same-sex religious ceremonies between people of various faiths and their clergy.”

    I wish that statement were true, but it is not. Although such marriages are “allowed”, the DOMA specifically forbids the FEDERAL Government from recognizing those marriages. This is not “respect[ing] religious freedom”. It shits on it.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Grumpy Old Person

    “Chaplain Mark Schreiber, director of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s military ministry, said chaplains who disagree with the policy will not be forced to officiate at same-sex weddings and he expects “no mass exodus.” “

    I wonder how many anti-equality, anti-gay folks will miss/ignore/not believe that part?

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