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Senate bill includes watered-down chaplain amendment
News update posted Dec. 2, 2011
by Lisa Keen, Keen News Service
2011-12-07

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The U.S. Senate passed a defense spending bill on Thursday ( December 1 ) with only a much watered-down amendment seeking to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act against same-sex marriages.

The bill is the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, an annual measure to authorize spending by the Department of Defense. Funding bills can, and often do, include language of a political nature, and the House, in May, passed its defense authorization bill with three anti-gay amendments.

One House amendment sought to delay repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; but, the law repealing the ban on openly gay people in the military went into effect in September, as scheduled.

The other two House anti-gay amendments sought to prevent the military from allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies to take place on base facilities and from using military chaplains.

The Senate approved language concerning only military chaplains. The amendment, offered by Senator Roger Wicker ( R-Miss. ) , never mentions same-sex marriages specifically.

Entitled the "Freedom of Conscience of Military Chaplains With Respect to the Performance of Marriages" amendment, it simply states that a military chaplain, "who, as a matter of conscience or moral principle, does not wish to perform a marriage may not be required to do so."

"The Wicker amendment does nothing new as it relates to the rights of chaplains," said Aubrey Sarvis, head of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) . "Indeed, the new Senate language is a restatement of the protections and guarantees that have always been there."

On his Senate website, Wicker made clear his amendment was prompted by a decision by DOD in September to allow military chaplains to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, in accordance with the relevant state law.

His co-sponsors, all Republicans, included James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Wicker introduced the amendment November 16, and on November 30, Senator Carl Levin ( D-Mich. ) , chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that amendment and more than 30 others, were "cleared" by him and Senator John McCain ( R-Ariz. ) , the ranking Republican on the committee. The amendments were then agreed to by the Senate through unanimous consent, without debate.

A Senate-House conference committee must now agree upon one version of the defense authorization bill, and the Human Rights Campaign would like to see all the same-sex marriage language left out.

"We want to see the NDAA signed into law without any language that would harm LGBT service members or restrict the religious liberties of chaplains," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, HRC's director of communications. " We'll be working with our allies on the conference committee toward that outcome."

The most intense controversy facing that conference committee appears to be a dispute over whether American citizens suspected of supporting terrorist activities can be tried in military tribunals, instead of criminal courts.

The Senate bill authorizes the Defense Department to spend $662 billion in Fiscal Year 2012. The House version calls for $690 billion.

� 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.


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