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Congress Stands With the Troops on Marriage and Religious Freedom

May 15, 2012
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Strong Support for Palazzo, Akin, and Huelskamp Amendments

On May 9, 2012, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would reaffirm the traditional definition of marriage and protect rights of conscience and religious freedom for military chaplains and service members.

AP: House Panel Backs Limits on Gay Rights in Military

On a vote of 37-24, HASC members voted for an amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS), to reinforce congressional intent that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) applies in the military. Rep. Palazzo and several allies pointed out that the DOMA law clearly defined marriage for federal purposes, and the Department of Defense should comply with the law and congressional intent.

Following that vote, members voted 36-25 for an amendment sponsored by Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), which would protect rights of conscience and religious freedom in the military. In a news release, Rep. Akin said:

“Yesterday the President announced his new position on same-sex marriage, and used the military as a campaign prop to advance the liberal agenda. Whatever Obama’s views may be, I find it appalling that the he would so blatantly use the military for political cover on this controversial issue. ..This liberal agenda has infiltrated our military, where service members and chaplains are facing recrimination for their sincerely held moral and religious beliefs. Moral or religious concerns about same-sex marriage or the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell have become potentially career-ending."

During the debate, Democratic critics conceded that rights of religious liberty are already in the U.S. Constitution, so they fell back on arguing that the amendment was "redundant." Congressman Akin, however, cited examples of pressure on chaplains reported by the Chaplain Alliance for the Religious Freedom (CALL). Rep. Akin also quoted from a persuasive letter submitted to the committee by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

In his letter, Archbishop Broglio expressed support for legislation to ensure that:

  • "No restrictions or limitations will be placed on the teaching ability of any chaplain, whether in the pulpit, the classroom, the field, the barracks, private counseling sessions, or at the office;
  • "No chaplain is ever disciplined for presenting authentic Catholic teaching on marriage and chaste living, which would include any preaching, teaching, counseling or other public or private communication on the immorality, injustice, and/or unacceptability of homosexual behavior and same-sex unions;
  • "No chaplain will ever be forced to participate in programs contrary to his or her faith...[to include marriage preparation programs such as the Army's Strong Bonds program;"] and that
  • "No money from the Catholic community will ever be used to further any matter contrary to Catholic doctrine, including the advancement of same-sex unions." (In the Army and Air Force, a portion of the collection of each faith community is placed into the general chapel fund, from which programs for marriage preparation are taken.)

Language in the Akin amendment makes it clear that rights of conscience apply to all military personnel and chaplains, whether they favor or oppose LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) law in the military. Without question, chaplains will continue to minister to all personnel regardless of personal conduct, as they always have. The difference is that chaplains will not be required to provide counseling proclaiming homosexual conduct to be moral and acceptable.

The Akin amendment also affirms that behavior contrary to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) will not be tolerated--a fact that California Democrat Loretta Sanchez failed to discredit with absurd arguments that Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) effectively countered.

Language in the two amendments reflected the original Military Religious Freedom Act (HR 3828), which Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) sponsored earlier this year.

In a separate House Appropriations Committee vote, Rep. Huelskamp successfully sponsored legislation to stop government funding of Department of Justice efforts in opposition to the DOMA, which easily passed on a 245-171 vote. Rep. Huelskamp said this in a news release:

"It is not President Obama's prerogative to decide which laws matter and which do not, nor his right to challenge constitutional amendments duly passed by the various States. The Justice Department is duty-bound to enforce DOMA and to not do so is a flagrant disregard for the Constitution and for the rule of law."

 In anticipation of the defense bill mark-up, the Center for Military Readiness coordinated a Military Culture Coalition letter signed by 40 prominent organization leaders, which was acknowledged with appreciation by HASC Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA). Additional letters were sent by the Traditional Values Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

On May 13, Rep. Palazzo appeared on Fox News to discuss the purpose of the legislation. The NDAA will be debated in the full House starting on May 16, and it is possible that an attempt will be made to strike the Akin and Palazzo amendments.

If approved in the House, the legislation will have to be approved by the House/Senate Conference Committee and signed into law by President Obama. If the president does not sign the defense bill, the three amendments passed by the House could become an issue in the coming presidential and congressional races.

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