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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 40
Pentagon: Chaplains may officiate over same-sex weddings
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Pentagon: Chaplains may officiate over same-sex weddings

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

On September 30, the Pentagon issued guidance clarifying that military chaplains are allowed to perform same-sex weddings, and that base facilities can be used for such weddings in states where Gay marriage is legal.

In two separate memos to the military services, top Pentagon officials specify that such actions are permissible in the wake of the end to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'

In one memo, dated Sept. 30, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley writes that military chaplains 'may participate or officiate any private ceremony' provided local or state law doesn't prohibit such ceremonies.

The guidance further clarifies that 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 on whether to use a military base facility for a private function should be made on 'a sexual-orientation neutral basis' as long as such use isn't prohibited by local or state laws.

Johnson adds that such ceremonies won't be official activities of the Pentagon, and the act of making base facilities available does not constitute an endorsement by the Defense Department.

LGBT advocates celebrated the memos from the Pentagon as the declaration of Gay service members' right to marry.

The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, a group led by retired military chaplains, hailed the announcement that the Pentagon would allow chaplains to conduct any ceremonies permitted by their faith in military chapels.

Chaplain Colonel Paul Dodd, U.S. Army (Ret.), issued a statement on behalf of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy. Dodd, founder and co-chair of the Forum, served 31 years as an Army chaplain, including a tour as command chaplain for the Army Medical Command.

'This is an affirmation of the pluralism, respect and commitment to America's troops - all of them - that has always been a hallmark of our military chaplains,' said Dodd. 'The Pentagon has rightly concluded that chaplains must continue to have the freedom to conduct wedding and religious rituals according to the dictates of their faith, and that of their service members. It was a bold and historic movement to secure the free exercise of religion for all of America's troops, and to protect the historic role of military chaplains to perform and provide for the religious needs of our service members.'

The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy advocates for a 'professional and pluralistic' military chaplaincy, representing all faiths and supporting all troops, including those who are LGBT. The Forum provided input to the Pentagon's Working Group on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal Implementation.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) - the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization - praised the Pentagon's decision to allow military chaplains to perform wedding ceremonies in jurisdictions where they are legal, and when performing such weddings is consistent with their faith traditions

'We applaud the Department of Defense for protecting the religious freedoms of all military chaplains,' said HRC President Joe Solmonese. 'As we move into a new era of open service, today's decision by the Department of Defense ensures that all military families, including Lesbian and Gay military families, have equal access to military facilities.'

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the guidance 'strikes the right balance' between allowing Gay service members to marry and respect for religious beliefs.

'We are pleased the Department of Defense has made it clear that a military chaplain is allowed to perform any lawful ceremony that is consistent with his or her beliefs and is not required to perform a ceremony that is inconsistent with those beliefs,' Sarvis said. 'We are also pleased that access to military facilities will be granted on a sexual-orientation-neutral basis.'

Sarvis continued, 'The guidance issued today strikes the right balance between respecting the faith traditions of chaplains and affording all service members the same rights under current law. This is another logical step in the direction of full equality for Gay and Lesbian service members, and we hope the Department will continue to move down that path.'

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