One Step Forward, One Step Back



When he first read a Navy chaplain’s April 13 memo clarifying whether same-sex weddings should be permitted on military bases after “don’t ask, don’t tell” is officially repealed, retired Chaplain John F. Gundlach knew it was only a matter of time before the two-page document, written by a former colleague, would become a de facto political football.

Granted, it took nearly a month before conservative lawmakers shouted “Game on,” but Gundlach was right. “I knew once they got their hands on [the memo], they were going to be upset by it. And they have been,” Gundlach said of social conservatives.

As part of DADT repeal training for military chaplains, Gundlach’s former colleague, Navy Chief of Chaplains Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, had clarified upon the advice of legal counsel that base facilities were “sexual orientation neutral.” Individual chaplains would therefore be permitted — and expressly not obligated — to officiate weddings for gay and lesbian service members at base facilities in states that allow marriage for same-sex couples.

The memo was first picked up by the conservative website Media Research Center. Family Research Council subsequently had a field day on it: "If the [Obama] administration keeps pounding its agenda through the military, we'll need the Navy SEALs to rescue marriage,” the organization quipped in a blog post earlier this week.

Tidd’s guidance was not in conflict with specific language contained in the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Yet certain members of Congress nevertheless couldn’t resist the opportunity to score political points with key special interests.

“It seems like the Pentagon was thinking that the U.S. law code was an à la carte menu, that they could follow one thing and ignore another one, but unfortunately they hadn’t done their homework,” Rep. Todd Akin told Concerned Women for America’s Martha Kleder in a recent radio appearance. On Wednesday, Akin offered an amendment to the House defense authorization act to prohibit on-base, same-sex weddings by military chaplains.

“The Navy got it,” Akin said, victoriously. “Thought about it a little bit… and all of the sudden, they’re saying, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re getting a black eye here.’”

DOMA does not expressly forbid allowing such weddings to take place on military property, nor does it prohibit federal employees from officiating in same-sex unions. Yet these facts seemed to be lost on both interviewer and subject. Even a recent perusal of the New York Times’ Weddings/Celebrations section confirms as much on the latter point:

“Jack O’Kelley III and John Alan Haskins were married Saturday evening at Meridian House in Washington. Judge Barrington D. Parker Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit officiated,” the Times reported on May 6.

Rev. Gundlach and several other chaplains interviewed by The Advocate — both active and retired — praised Rear Adm. Tidd’s original guidance on the matter and expressed disappointment that conservative groups and lawmakers likely forced the hand of the highly respected chaplain. Tidd declined an interview request via a Chief of Chaplains spokesman, who called the current situation “a delicate issue until things progress a little further.”

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