The House of Representatives passed a Defense Appropriations bill Thursday including an amendment from Rep. Steve King of Iowa that would bar same-sex couples from marrying at military facilities and prohibit military chaplains from performing the ceremonies.
Politico reports on the measure introduced by King, who said that President Obama and the secretary of Defense were "contravening" the Defense of Marriage Act by allowing the marriages to take place. Last year, after repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," took effect, the Defense Department issued a memo to chaplains allowing the ceremonies to occur provided they were not "prohibited by applicable state and local law." The memo also said a chaplain was not required to participate in any ceremony if it violated "his or her religion or personal beliefs."
In a floor speech, King called the directive "not just permission," but he said it "implied encouragement to conduct same-sex marriages on our military bases conducted by our chaplains presumably who are all under the payroll of the U.S. government."
The House passed the amendment 247-166, with 17 Democrats voting in favor and five Republicans opposed. GOP lawmakers who voted against the King amendment were Judy Biggert of Illinois, Richard Hanna of New York, Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Nan Hayworth of New York, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the only Republican Congress member to support DOMA repeal. All five later voted for the 2013 Defense Appropriations bill, which passed the House by a vote of 326-90 and now heads to the Senate.
Prior to the vote on the amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to representatives urging them to vote no. The organization provided The Advocate with a copy of the letter.
"This amendment, which says that none of the funds made available by the Act may be used in contravention of the discriminatory so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), is both unnecessary and redundant," said the letter. "The Department of Defense does not need Congress to tell it that it cannot use funding in violation of the law. While there are multiple legal challenges to DOMA working their way through the federal courts, it is still the law of the land. The Department of Defense, like all federal agencies, is bound to uphold the law. The King Amendment serves absolutely no purpose other than to score election year political points at the expense of gay and lesbian couples and their families."
Fred Sainz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, agreed the amendment is unneccesary and said it only highlights discrimination faced by troops under the Defense of Marriage Act, which the HRC is continually lobbying to repeal. And he says repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" came with similar warnings from the opposition that it "would destroy the fabric of our nation's military" but now "military officials have concurred that the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' was ultimately a nonevent."
"This amendment is an attempt to distract from the smooth transition we have seen in the military after the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' last year," he said.
King, who once called same-sex marriage "a purely socialist concept" in a radio interview, has been a partner with NOM in Iowa. The Des Moines Register reports that the confidential memos unsealed earlier this year in a federal court case in Maine show that NOM recruited King to "lay out a plan" to fight marriage equality "just hours after" the state supreme court ruling in 2009.
The five-term incumbent from western Iowa is a priority target of Democrats this year. The party has nominated Christie Vilsack, wife of former governor Tom Vilsack, to challenge him.
Watch video of Steve King's floor speech below.