Pro and anti-Gay amendments stripped from Defense Authorization Act
 

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posted Friday, December 16, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 50

Pro and anti-Gay amendments stripped from Defense Authorization Act
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

U.S. House and Senate leaders announced on December 12 that they had agreed on a version of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that omits all proposed amendments dealing with LGBT service members.

The annual Defense Authorization Act approves funding for the Pentagon. Because it is considered 'must pass' legislation, it often serves as a vehicle for amendments addressing other, sometimes unrelated, policy issues.

The joint conference report on the 2012 authorization resolved differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill and allowed allocation of some $662 billion for military programs and service members' pay to go forward.

The conference removed language from the House version that prohibits military chaplains from officiating at same-sex weddings and bars the use of base facilities for such ceremonies.

Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) inserted the language during the markup of the bill.

The joint conference also dropped language in the House bill that was added by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) stating that the Defense Department must comply with DOMA.

Instead of these provisions, the conference settled on the Senate language added by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). That language allows chaplains to opt out of same-sex weddings if they object to them.

'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 language reads.

The final bill also omits language found in the House version added by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), that would have expanded the certification requirement for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal to include the four military service chiefs. Certification happened over the summer, so the language was deemed to be moot.

LGBT rights advocates opposed the Akin amendment as an extension of DOMA beyond the restrictions that are already imposed by the anti-Gay law.

Adoption of Akin's language would have rolled back Pentagon guidelines issued on September 30, saying military chaplains could officiate at same-sex weddings if they chose to do so, and allowing military facilities to be used for the ceremonies.

The Hartzler amendment was seen as simply redundant given existing restrictions under DOMA.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis commended the conference for removing the anti-Gay language from the House bill.

'We congratulate the House and Senate conference committee for having struck the correct balance on the chaplains provisions,' Sarvis said.

'Clearly, there was no place for the restrictive Akin language as the Defense Department continues to move forward on effective implementation of open service in our military.'

On the other hand, the conference report also leaves out language from the Senate bill to repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which criminalized 'sodomy.'

The Pentagon had asked for repeal of the 'sodomy' ban as recommended by the Comprehensive Review Working Group report on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' that was issued late last year.

Both LGBT activists and the Commission on the 50th Anniversary of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, informally known as the Cox Commission, had also called for an end to the 'sodomy' ban.

Sarvis expressed disappointment that conferees didn't include the Senate language in the conference bill.

'Dropping Article 125 has been recommended for more than a decade by SLDN and several groups, including the Cox Commission that includes distinguished legal scholars from the military and academia, as well as the Comprehensive Review Working Group,' he said.

'The Senate was right to take this action, and it is unfortunate that their attempt to end Article 125 did not prevail.'

The Defense Authorization Act must now go back to both House and Senate for a final up-or-down vote on the language agreed on by the joint conference. Both branches of Congress are expected to approve it and send it to President Obama for his signature.

The White House, however, has threatened that the president will veto the bill over a provision entirely unrelated to LGBT issues.

Obama reportedly objects to language that requires military custody of terrorist suspects and allows indefinite detention of some suspects without trial.



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