The Navy is revoking guidance to its chaplains that would have allowed same-sex marriages at military chapels once the ban on gays serving openly in the military is lifted.
The reversal comes after complaints from Republican lawmakers and social conservatives that the ceremonies would violate the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of such marriages.
Military officials said, however, that the Defense Department eventually may permit gay troops to use the chapels in states that recognize homosexual marriages for same-sex weddings after President Obama lifts the ban on openly gay troops known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
Concerns arose late last week when conservative leaders learned of an April 13 memo from Navy Chief of Chaplains Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, who told colleagues that same-sex marriages would be permitted at militarychapels in states that recognize gay marriage.
Tidd’s memo said that Navy chaplains would not be required to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies if it was inconsistent with their religious beliefs. Gay marriages could occur on base because Navy lawyers had concluded that “generally speaking, base facility use is sexual orientation-neutral,” Tidd said in the memo.
At the time, Tidd also said the guidance was prompted by questions raised by chaplains during mandatory training sessions on the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Late Tuesday, he said he was suspending the guidance “pending additional legal and policy review” and closer coordination with the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Media coverage and complaints from Capitol Hill prompted Defense Department lawyers to review Tidd’s guidance, Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Wednesday.
“Legal counsel looked at it and determined it needed further review,” he said.
Defense Department lawyers will determine whether policy on holding same-sex weddings at military chapels can be left up to each service branch or requires military-wide legal guidance, he said.
The Obama administration said in February that it would no longer defend DOMA because it considers the legislation unconstitutional. Despite the White House’s decision, House Republicans have vowed to defend the law’s constitutionality in federal court.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called Tidd’s original guidance prudent and correct, noting that chaplains can still decline to perform gay ceremonies just as they are free today to do so with respect to any marriage.
But the conservative Family Research Council said that permitting same-sex marriage at military chapels would make it “even more uncomfortable for men and women of faith to perform their duties” as military chaplains.
Elaine Donnelly, founder of the Center for Military Readiness and a critic of ending the ban, said Tuesday that the Pentagon’s reversal signals its uncertainty.
“They don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t have a clue,” she said regarding ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee was poised to pass amendments to the annual defense authorization bill late Wednesday that would prohibit the use of Defense Department facilities for same-sex marriages, even if state laws permits them.
One amendment, introduced by Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), would bar military chaplains and other Defense Department personnel from officiating at gay marriages.
Another amendment backed by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) would expand the process of ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” by requiring Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen to seek certifications from the heads of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy before lifting the ban.
The heads of the Army and Marine Corps last year expressed concerns about ending the ban during wartime, but all five service chiefs said they didn’t think their roles should include certifying the ban’s end.
Staff writer Craig Whitlock contributed to this report.