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Government, Politics & Issues

Navy rescinds same-sex marriage guidance after complaints by Akin, others

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 12, 2011 - WASHINGTON - Responding to complaints by U.S. Rep. Todd Akin and other critics, the Navy has revoked its recent guidance to chaplains that would have allowed same-sex marriages to be conducted at Navy chapels in states that authorize such unions.

That announcement by a Pentagon spokesman came after Akin, R-Town and Country, and other conservatives in Congress complained in a letter to the Navy secretary that the April 11 guidance violated the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which requires the government to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Late Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee voted 38-23 to adopt Akin's amendment to the defense authorization bill that would expressly ban such marriages on U.S. military bases and also bar military chaplains from performing such ceremonies.

"This amendment leaves no doubt as to the position of our U.S. Armed Forces regarding marriage, as recognized by federal law," Akin said in a statement Thursday. "Under federal law and this amendment, U.S. military bases may not be used to solemnize same-sex unions, nor may military chaplains perform these unions in the course of their official duties."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council -- a conservative group that had objected to the Navy's guidance -- said in a statement: "I applaud Rep. Todd Akin for his efforts to ensure that the military is not used to advance the liberal social agenda of the Obama administration."

But Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network -- a group that backs full repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which banned openly homosexual service members -- criticized Akin's amendment and an amendment by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, requiring that the man-woman definition of marriage apply to all Defense Department regulations and policies.

Sarvis called those measures -- as well as another amendment by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., that aimed to disrupt the process for repealing "don't ask, don't tell" by expanding certification requirements by the military chiefs -- as "a partisan political attempt to interject the same-sex marriage debate and other unrelated social issues into the [defense authorization bill], where they have no place."

Hartzler, whose amendment was approved in a 39-28 vote, said in a tweet that the committee had approved her amendment "affirming DOMA, so for federal and DOD purposes marriage is between a man & a woman."

Read the Beacon's earlier story below:

WASHINGTON - Now that five states and the District of Columbia authorize same-sex marriages, the Navy has issued a new guidance that - once the military's ban on openly gay service members is fully lifted - would allow its chaplains to officiate at such marriages in Navy chapels in those states.

But U.S Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town and Country, is trying to block the new policy, arguing that allowing same-sex marriages on federal property would violate the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 federal law that requires the government to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Akin, who chairs a House Armed Services Committee panel with jurisdiction over seapower issues, says he plans to offer an amendment to block the Navy's new plan. He and 62 other U.S. House members - including Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, sent a letter Monday asking the Navy Secretary to rescind the guidance.

"This new guidance from the Navy clearly violates the law," Akin said in a statement. "While a state may legalize same-sex marriage, federal property and federal employees, like Navy chaplains, should not be used to perform marriages that are not recognized by federal law."

The conservative House members emphasize the difference between federal and state laws. Five states - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont - and D.C. now issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples. Three other states - Maryland, New York and Rhode Island - legally recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

At the same time, the Pentagon is in the midst of implementing the repeal of the former "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy - which had banned openly gay service members. Akin has opposed the repeal, which was approved by Congress and signed into law in December by President Barack Obama.

"My colleagues and I are calling on the Secretary of the Navy to make sure that the Navy actually follows the law," Akin said. The lawmakers' letter argues that, "It is not the place of any citizen of this country to pick and choose which laws they are going to obey. We expect citizens sworn to defend those laws to set the example in their application."

The new Navy policy guidance was outlined in an April 11 memo to Navy chaplains from the Chief of Chaplains, Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd. The memo aimed to update chaplains' training guidance in the wake of DADT repeal. The prior manuals had said same-sex marriages were not authorized on federal property.

"If the [Navy] base is located in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, then base facilities may normally be used to celebrate the marriage," Tidd wrote in the new guidance. He added that "a chaplain may officiate a same-sex, civil marriage" - but is not required to - if it takes place in a state where such marriages are legal and if the chaplain is certified to officiate marriages.

A Navy spokeswoman, Lt. Alana Garas, told the Navy Times on Monday that the new policy guidance made clear that no chaplains will be required to officiate at same-sex messages, if that conflicts with their faith. She referred questions about the applicability of the Defense of Marriage Act to the Justice Department.

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