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Congress Drops Antigay Provisions in Defense Bill

Congress Drops Antigay Provisions in Defense Bill


WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers have dropped antigay provisions in the $662 billion annual Defense spending bill, including an amendment that would have barred military chaplains from performing same-sex weddings in their official capacities.

Several antigay amendments had been included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 passed in May. The bill's conference committee, tasked with reconciling differences between the House bill and the Senate bill that passed earlier this month in a 93-7 vote, dropped the chaplain antigay amendment introduced by Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican, in favor of a Senate amendment offered by Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker that specifies that chaplains who object to gay unions and do "not wish to perform a marriage may not be required to do so." Completion of the bill conference report was announced late Monday.

Introduced in November, the Wicker amendment to the Senate bill was deemed by many advocates to be an acceptable political compromise that would not jeopardize the rights of chaplains or gay service members seeking to wed. After months of legal review, the Department of Defense announced in September that military chaplains may officiate in same-sex wedding ceremonies of service members in states where such unions are legal -- a decision that drew anticipated backlash from social conservatives fiercely opposed to repealing "don't ask, don't tell."

"The Wicker amendment -- while in my mind redundant and thus unnecessary -- recognized what is already true under the First Amendment, that no military chaplain is required by any law or government official to perform any marriage ceremony that does not comply with the teachings and tenets of the military chaplain's denomination or faith," wrote Reverend Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, in an op-ed last week.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said earlier this month that the Wicker amendment is "a restatement of the protections and guarantees that have always been there."

Two other antigay amendments also died in conference: One that would have superfluously affirmed the Defense of Marriage Act in Defense Department policies, and the other, now moot, that would have delayed implementation of DADT, which went into effect on September 20.

SLDN expressed disappointment that an outdated provision called Article 125 was not repealed in the conference report despite the Senate including repeal in its version of the bill. Article 125 bans certain sex acts between adults, including sodomy, but had become a lightning rod for attention from religious right-wing groups.

According to the Associated Press, lawmakers hope to complete the bill on Wednesday, then send it on to President Obama.

Controversial provisions on detention of suspected terrorists, which threatened a presidential veto, were revised to provide "a number of additional assurances that there will be no interference with civilian interrogations or other law enforcement activities," Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin of Michigan said in a Monday statement.

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