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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 13, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 19
Navy changes course on same-sex marriage
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Navy changes course on same-sex marriage

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

On May 11, Chief of Navy Chaplains Rear Admiral Mark Tidd announced that any consideration of Navy chaplains performing same-sex marriages would be suspended 'until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and inter-Departmental coordination.'

The May 11 announcement reversed a previous memo from Tidd suggesting that Navy chaplains could marry same-sex couples if the Navy personnel in question were stationed in states that allowed same-sex marriage.

Tidd wrote on April 13 that repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' required revision of the Navy's policies and training manual for its chaplains, specifically as they related to same-sex marriage.

According to Tidd's April memo, he submitted the question to the Navy's legal department and 'legal counsel has concluded that generally speaking base facility use is sexual orientation neutral.'

'If the base is in a state where same-sex marriage is legal,' Tidd concluded, 'then base facilities may normally be used to celebrate the marriage.'

Tidd went on to say that no chaplains would be forced to perform same-sex marriages if their religious tradition opposed them.

'This is a change to previous training that stated same-sex marriages are not authorized on federal property,' Tidd said, referring obliquely to DOMA Section 3, which says that the federal government only recognizes opposite-sex marriages.

While Tidd issued this memo in April, it did not become widely known until May 9, when news media picked up the story.

It immediately sparked controversy.

House Republicans - who have hired a lawyer to defend DOMA and are actively considering legislation to reverse DADT repeal - reportedly burned up the Pentagon's phone lines with calls to protest Tidd's memo.

'This new guidance from the Navy clearly violates the law,' Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, said in a May 9 statement.

'While our president may not like [DOMA], it is unbelievable that our Navy would issue guidance that clearly violates this law. 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.'

On the other side of the issue, Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson insisted the Navy was within its rights on same-sex marriage policy.

Nicholson said the Pentagon should not be distracted by 'pressure from reactionaries.'

'The Navy was right in their analysis last month that nothing stands in the way of operating facilities without discrimination, and further review will no doubt validate that position,' HRC spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz agreed.

'While some lawmakers are dragging out scare tactics, there is nothing controversial in allowing facilities to be operated in a nondiscriminatory manner,' he added.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan admitted on May 11 that media coverage and complaints from Republican lawmakers prompted the Pentagon to review Tidd's guidance.

'That raised the issue, so the [Navy] legal counsel looked at it and determined it needed further review,' Lapan said at a briefing with reporters.

Lapan said Defense Department lawyers would also determine whether policy on same-sex marriages can be left up to each service or whether it requires uniform legal guidance to the entire military.

Meanwhile, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued a paper defending Tidd's April 13 instructions.

'[Tidd's] legal advice to chaplains was prudent and correct,' SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis wrote on May 10.

'[Tidd's] guidance and Navy legal counsel are wholly consistent with DOMA,' Sarvis added.

'DOMA states that for purposes of federal laws and rules 'the word marriage means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.' Allowing a military chapel to be used for a particular ceremony or permitting a military Chaplain to participate in one does not mean that the federal government is agreeing that the ceremony results in a 'marriage' under federal law.'

Early indications from the Defense Department seem to indicate agreement with Sarvis' reasoning.

'DOMA does not limit the type of religious ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military installation,' Pentagon spokesperson Eileen Lainez said in a statement.

'Chaplains are authorized to perform religious ceremonies consistent with the practices of the chaplain's faith group in chapels on military installations.'

While Tidd's April 13 memo may or may not be consistent with DOMA, it would certainly be consistent with President Obama's conclusion that DOMA Section 3 is unconstitutional.

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