Even though military chaplains are already allowed to opt out of marrying same-sex couples, the U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to ensure that the Defense Department never changes the rules and suddenly bars chaplains from discriminating against gay couples.
The Senate used a voice vote without any debate, according to the Army Times, to pass the Republican-authored measure as part of the annual Defense spending bill. It guarantees that any chaplain ""who as a matter of conscience or moral principle does not wish to perform a marriage, may not be required to do so."
In the Defense Department's guidance issued in September, the religious exemption clause was already part the policy: "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 or personal beliefs."
But even before the policy was finalized, Republicans in the House were so angered by the idea that they attached their own amendment in June to the Defense spending bill that bans same-sex marriages on military bases, even in states where it's legal.
Religious exemptions have been included in several marriage equality
bills, including the landmark legislation that passed in New York, and
some civil rights groups argue they merely spell out what the First
Amendment already allows.
Gay rights activists actually welcomed the Senate action because lawmakers will now have to reconcile the two competing policies. So the Senate's language sets up a fight over which version -- the status quo or the rollback -- makes its way to President Obama for a signature.
"We had been preparing to fight off an attempt to adopt the House language and are pleased that this bullet was dodged," said Fred Sainz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, which was among the groups relieved by the amendment's addition to the mix.
Still, House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon has said he'd rather not pass a bill this year if it means dropping the House's chaplain amendment.