It’s already clear that the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell hasn’t made the experience of LGBT servicemembers equal overnight. Partners of gay servicemembers still aren’t extended the same benefits as the partners of straight servicemembers, and inequity still contributes to higher levels of PTSD and other health concerns for gay soldiers. The combination of the vestiges of DADT and the continued effects of DOMA means that while same-sex partners and spouses can now be publicly recognized by the military without fear of discharge, gay servicemembers and their partners are still left out in the cold in many regards, which leaves families feeling helpless and alone as their loved ones are making an enormous sacrifice for the country.
And it gets worse: today, the House of Representatives passed a defense spending bill that includes two amendments that will codify even more discrimination by allowing military chaplains to refuse to perform on-base wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, and prohibiting “adverse personnel actions” against members of the Armed Forces who discriminate against gay servicemembers based on their religious beliefs. The bill also limits the use of Department of Defense property for same-sex marriage ceremonies.
As has been the case with other attempts to legalize anti-gay discrimination, the amendments operate on the premise of religious freedom, arguing that forcing chaplains to treat same-sex couples with respect and dignity would violate their religious practice. According to Republican lawmakers, the rights of gay servicemembers to marry and have their spouses treated equally by the military is just one more step in the Obama administration’s war on religion.
“There’s just concern right now about this administration’s seeming lack of understanding of religious liberty issues, and this is just one symptom of that,” [Ron Crews, a retired military chaplain and executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty] told me. He cited the administration’s contraception coverage policy as another example. Since senior Defense Department officials are political appointees, he added, the legislative efforts are an attempt to “counterbalance” administration policy.
The White House issued a statement on Wednesday saying that it “strongly objects” to these amendments, turning the religious-freedom rhetoric of the Republican party on its head by pointing out that “Section 537 would obligate DOD to deny Service members, retirees, and their family members access to facilities for religious ceremonies on the basis of sexual orientation, a troublesome and potentially unconstitutional limitation on religious liberty.” This isn’t the first time the White House has been in conflict with the House of Representatives, but this time there doesn’t appear to be a movement to veto the offending piece of legislation. According to the House, the military is now just one more area of American life wherein the feelings of the religious community matter more than legal rights. The next step for the bill is the Senate Armed Forces Committee next week, and “differences between House and Senate versions” of the bill will hopefully be reconciled in conference committee at some later date.