Bil Browning

Military Chaplains Can Marry Gay Soldiers

Filed By Bil Browning | September 30, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Department of Defense, Evan Wolfson, gay soldiers, marriage equality, military, same-sex marriage

The Department of Defense issued two memos today clarifying that military chaplains can marry gay and lesbian soldiers and rings.jpgthe couples can get married on base if the state allows same-sex marriage.

In one memo dated Sept. 30, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Clifford Stanley writes military chaplains "may participate or officiate any private ceremony" provided such ceremonies aren't prohibited by local or state law.

The guidance further clarifies chaplains are "not required" to participate in a private ceremony if doing so is contrary to their religious beliefs. Additionally, the guidance says a chaplain's participation in such ceremonies doesn't constitute an endorsement of the ceremony by the Pentagon.

In another memo dated Sept. 21, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson says the determination of using a military base facility for private functions should be made on "a sexual-orientation neutral basis" as long as such use isn't prohibited by local or state laws.

After the memos were released, Freedom to Marry president Evan Wolfson put out a statement saying, "Today's decision reflects the basic constitutional rights and respect for marriage that those serving our country, like all of us, deserve. Discrimination has no place in the military, or in marriage -- and of course people, gay or non-gay, should be able to celebrate their love and commitment in ceremonies without interference by the government. In the months ahead, Americans will see gay service-members getting married, surrounded by loved ones, and will get an even better understanding of how the freedom to marry helps families while hurting no one, increasing support for an end to marriage discrimination."

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Truly wonderful news, but one of the conditions is still unjust. Heterosexual service members are allowed to enter into a religious marriage on base without entering into a civil marriage. Gay service members are only allowed to enter into a marriage (even a religious one) on base only in the seven states that have full legal equality.

I see people say this a lot, but haven't seen any evidence that marriage ceremonies that aren't legally recognized are illegal to perform. I don't think any religious rituals that don't involve human sacrifice or something can actually be banned.

While presumably each state has its own procedures for authorizing religious people to officiate at weddings, to the best of my knowledge every state considers religious weddings officiated by an authorized person to be simultaneously civil marriages.

Ned Flaherty | October 1, 2011 11:25 AM

This article contains two important errors.

Firstly, the article equates a marriage (a civil status) with a wedding (a religious ceremony). But the Department of Defense memorandum says nothing about marriage; it is solely about various private, religious ceremonies (including — but not limited to — weddings).

Secondly, the article ignores the distinction between “allowing” (permitting) private, religious wedding ceremonies vs. “not prohibiting” (banning) them. The DoD memorandum permits military chaplains to perform such ceremonies not just “if the state allows same-sex marriage” as the story says; it permits such ceremonies anywhere in the world that such private, religious ceremonies are not specifically locally outlawed.

The difference is enormous, because while only 7 American states allow same-sex marriage, no American state bans private, religious wedding ceremonies, which is what the DoD memorandum is all about. While many states consider religious weddings to result in civil marriage, in no state — even the ones that ban civil marriage — are private, religious wedding ceremonies illegal.

This DoD memorandum clearly permits all military personnel and clergy to perform any private, religious ceremony, on any military base, anywhere in the world, so long as such ceremonies are not locally illegal. That includes millions more people than just the several American states which now authorize same-sex civil marriage and also have military bases.

All that is much larger news than this article implies.

People might be interested in reading the extended discussion in the Washington Post:

(Ned, Are you the Ned from the South End??)