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Church leader opposes DoD on same-sex weddings

Sep. 30, 2011 - 04:43PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 30, 2011 - 04:43PM  |  
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A Roman Catholic church leader is voicing opposition to the Pentagon's decision to allow military chaplains to preside over same-sex marriages on military installations in places where same-sex marriage is not prohibited by state and local laws.

Under the new rules, chaplains and their churches can make their own decisions and "a chaplain is not required to participate or officiate in a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religious or personal beliefs, according to a policy memo signed by Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The controversial move by the Pentagon marked the first major policy shift since the repeal of the military's ban on open service by gays, which took effect on Sept. 20.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services in the U.S., said Roman Catholic priests serving as military chaplains will not be officiating at marriages of gays and lesbians based on the church's long-standing opposition to same-sex unions.

Broglio said he believes the Pentagon's policy is contrary to the federal law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

"Undersecretary Stanley cannot say, on the one hand, that chaplains may take part in any private ceremony as long as it is ‘not prohibited by applicable state and local law,' and on the other, say nothing of the federal law," the archbishop said.

The memo from Stanley appeared to address this legal issue by stating that "a chaplain's participation "does not constitute an endorsement of the ceremony" by the Defense Department.

A related memo, signed by Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's top attorney, said decisions about the use of military installations for "private functions, including religious and other ceremonies, should be made on a sexual-orientation neutral basis, provided such use is not prohibited by applicable state and local laws."

The new military policy will clear the way for same-sex marriages on military bases in places like New York and the District of Columbia.

The Pentagon's change was welcomed by legal advocates for gay and lesbian troops.

"The guidance issued today strikes the right balance between respecting the faith traditions of chaplains and affording all service members the same rights under current law," said Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director for the Service members Legal Defense Network, in a statement issued Sept. 30.

"This is another logical step in the direction of full equality for gay and lesbian service members, and we hope the Department will continue to move down that path."

But the move was immediately denounced by conservative groups like the Concerned Women for America.

"The Pentagon has clearly overstepped its bounds by declaring that military chaplains can perform same-sex marriages," said Penny Nance, chief executive officer for the Virginia-based group.

"As part of the federal government, the Department of Defense must abide by federal law including the Defense of Marriage Act, which permits marriage only between one man and one woman."

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