Monday, September 17, 2012

Will The Test Of Faith Come Early?

Just about a year ago, the Pentagon issued a directive making military chapels available for same sex marriages and performance of same sex marriages by military chaplains. Catholic and evangelical pastors immediately asked for clarification. Did the directive require chaplains to perform gay marriages, or merely permit it? The Department of Defense dithered, and the result was open protest.

Rather than wait until a chaplain was disciplined for refusing to perform a same sex marriage, a group comprised largely of the Catholic Diocese for Military Service and the evangelical Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty sent a joint letter to the Department of Defense declaring that their priests and pastors will not perform these marriages. All Catholic chaplains are now forbidden to perform gay marriages, and 2,000 evangelical pastors have likewise declared their unalterable position against performing the ceremonies as chaplains.

So far, this has not become a true confrontation, since no chaplain has yet been ordered to perform a gay marriage, meaning that none have yet had to refuse. But as Bob Dylan said, “it doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Don't ask, don't tell (DADT) has been ended by executive order. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta first instituted a series of directives removing any traces of discrimination against homosexuals in the military. He followed up with encouraging military participation in gay pride celebrations.

So far, this has all meant that gay rights advocates are celebrating, gay rights opponents are upset, and people like me who don't much care either way are waiting for the other shoe to drop. That other shoe is the growing sentiment within the Obama administration to go beyond tolerance and equality and move on to direct interference with religious freedom. The first indication of pressure from the Obama White House came with the president's threat in May to veto a defense appropriations bill (HR 4310) which included a provision prohibiting the military from using military facilities for same sex marriage or marriage-like ceremonies. It would also have allowed chaplains to refuse to perform such ceremonies. The “offending” provisions were removed.

The next indication of how the Obama administration intends to push his gay agenda came with the official response to the Catholic/evangelical letter. It ordered that chaplains not read the entire letter as written to their congregants, and ordered that if the letter were to be read, it must be redacted so as to remove all references to chaplains refusing to perform same sex marriages. In other words, the letter would become meaningless.

Republicans in the Senate led by Jim Imhofe (Oklahoma) are now ready to propose legislation designed to protect military chaplains from being forced to act against their faith or face a military court martial. It's a preemptive strike, since we haven't gotten to that point yet. But even though I can't predict the outcome of the legislation, I support it. It doesn't try to reinstate DADT, nor does it attempt to ban gay marriage. It simply protects chaplains whose deep religious beliefs won't permit performing such marriages. It is not a solution without a problem. Foreseeing immediate or soon-to-be consequences are part of a conscientious legislator's job description.

The biggest flaw in the legislation is that it ties itself closely to the Defense of Marriage Act, which is itself under recent attacks from the White House and the Department of Justice. But whatever form such legislation might finally take, it is important that it be done. Gay marriage is busting out all over in the civilian arena, but the very first genuine test of religious freedom and conscience-driven opposition to the government may occur within the military.

Briefly, I have to re-state my position (which we have covered on this blog multiple times). I oppose gay marriage on religious grounds. But I also subscribe to the Constitution and secular government, and if the state wants to allow the trappings of marriage for same sex couples, so be it. It is not the joining of two people of the same sex by legal means that I oppose (though it does make me a bit queasy). It is strictly the religious aspect which troubles me deply. In the civilian arena, once gay marriage has become the order of the day, it will take years of litigation to reach the point that will be reached at a much earlier stage in the military. Allowing gay marriage is one thing, mandating that all chaplains perform them is quite another.

You see, each State will make its own determination of what a marriage is. The Supreme Court might even find that gay marriage is a federal civil rights issue and allow it without defining it. But when it comes to the military, enforcement would quickly be universal because of the nature of the military which expects orders to be followed. For good reasons, open dissent and free speech, so necessary in the civilian arena, are not particularly desirable in the military. For the time being anyway, it appears that the Obama administration would be more than willing to go from accepting gay marriage to celebrating gay marriage, to ordering the performance of such marriages by all military chaplains.

The substitution of the words of the First Amendment concerning religious freedom with vague “human rights” language leaves pastors, priests, rabbis and imams wide-open to the charge that by refusing to perform gay marriages, they are violating basic human rights. That problem will be attacked fifty different ways in fifty different states. But when it comes to the military, the rules and the objections will be the same throughout the various military branches. Each state sets its own rules, and the litigation would be multitudinous and complicated. But when it comes to the military, the rules are essentially monolithic. The Navy can't decide to require chaplains to perform gay marriages while the Army goes the other direction. They must all abide by the same rules and take their orders.

In the civilian arena, it is likely that many governments which institute gay marriage will do so in a way which starts out meaning, or is later amended to mean, that gay marriages have the same civil meaning, force and legal effect as traditional marriages, leaving individuals free to decide for themselves whether it is a valid religious ceremony. It will be lawyers and the courts that screw up that sensible solution by going into the “human rights” area, making a pastor's refusal to perform a gay marriage a human rights violation. It has already happened in Canada, and don't think it couldn't happen here.

In the military, policy and top-down orders stemming from changes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice would be a much different and much more immediate thing. Maintaining good order and discipline would be much less likely to cause so many different kinds of civil rights/human rights litigation, since good order and discipline are not major factors in civil litigation. For those reasons, I believe that Congressional action immediately following the defeat of Barack Obama in November could stave off further demoralization of our military. Gay marriage, OK. Forcing chaplains to perform them, not OK.


Joel Farnham said...


I know that quite a few chaplains will refuse and face court martial. I wouldn't know how many will quit outright.

Anthony said...

I don't see why someone who is gay would want to be married by someone that deplored their lifestyle.

I also thing its someone amusing that they are chasing marriage, given how debased it is as an institution.

T-Rav said...

We're rapidly getting into the civil disobedience phase here. Only without support from the media or any "human rights" groups.

tryanmax said...

Anthony, you beat me to it. That's the one aspect that sorta throws the mask off of the whole movement. It doesn't make sense to have a ceremony that is supposed to be about love and voluntary commitment presided over by one in duress. The only corollary I can think of comes from swashbuckling films where the villain wants to forcibly marry the ingenue in order to usurp her family's fortune or some such power grab.

T-Rav said...

I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist or suggest that the gays are all out to get Christians. But having spent a lot of time with all-out gay marriage advocates, I know that a lot of them are militantly anti-Christian and would love nothing more than to rub the clergy's faces in it by making them marry gay people against their wishes. As is usually the case, they're mainly in it for a chance to sock religious people. That said, I know few gay people so I don't know where they're coming from on this.

Individualist said...


There are legal issues regarding this that go beyond Gay Marraige. In the Catholic Church (even today) one has to have had a previous marraige annulled in order to be approved to be married in the church.

So if the government can force Preists to marry gays then certainly they can force preists to marry a couple where one simply had been given a legal divorce by the state.

This is not about Gay rights and in reality there is no such thing as a gay marriage. You can call it what you like but no two people of the same sex can ever create a child together which is the whole point of marraige. It is a vonding of two people in a partnership but not acknowledging to the world that they are parents together. Mother nature is responsible for that.

This is and always has been about the government taking over religion in the same way it regualtes business, hospitals, schools and everything else.

AndrewPrice said...

Military chaplains need to follow military protocols, whether they like it or not. I don't see much else to say. This is the law and I don't see it changing.

Tennessee Jed said...

what a mess, Hawk! I really don't have answers, but it does seem that forcing a chaplain to perform a ceremony he doesn't believe in is too bad. Surely there should be enough of them who don't oppose it or are at least willing to perform the ceremony to not force a chaplain to go against his convictions.

Joel Farnham said...


I wonder if Muslim Clerics would be required to perform gay marriages. If they do perform them, would the Muslim Cleric be subject to a fatwa?

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