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Ron Crews
Associated Press/Photo by Christopher Berkey (file)
Ron Crews

A year of consequences

Congress | Since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” chaplains have come under fire while some lawmakers are ready to move on

WASHINGTON—One year after the military began allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to openly proclaim their sexual orientation, some conservative groups continue to call for an end to the change in policy.

But their pleas are falling largely on deaf ears on Capitol Hill, where most lawmakers seem content to focus on other issues.

The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CALL), which represents more than 2,000 chaplains serving the armed forces, said it is cataloging examples of negative consequences that have resulted from the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. After Congress voted in December 2010 for repeal, White House and Pentagon officials set Sept. 20, 2011, as the official end date of the then 16-year-old policy that prevented homosexuals from serving openly in the military.

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“The American armed forces exist to defend our nation, not as social experiment lab in which our troops serve as human subjects,” said Ron Crews, a retired chaplain and colonel who is now with CALL. “While many will ignore the negative impacts, or pretend that they don’t exist, threats to our troops’ freedom are mounting.”

While many media accounts focus on incidents against gay service members, CALL points out the following incidents since the policy change:

  • A chaplain was encouraged by military officials to resign his commission unless he could “get in line with the new policy.”
  • A chaplain was threatened with early retirement, and then reassigned to be more “closely supervised,” because he had expressed concerns about the policy change.
  • Service members engaged in homosexual behavior protested a service school’s open doors policy for all students that prohibited the closing of room doors for sexual purposes.
  • A senior chaplain was stripped of his authority over the chapel under his charge because, in accordance with federal law, he proclaimed the chapel as a “sacred space” where marriage or marriage-like ceremonies would only be between one man and one woman.
  • Same-sex ceremonies have been performed at military chapels, including one at Fort Polk, La., a state that constitutionally defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

“This list of problems and incidents that have arisen mere months after this administration imposed its will on the armed forces is disturbing to say the least, and we know it is only the beginning,” Crews said. “Compounding the outrage, service members are not free to speak out about these matters. This ensures that distrust in the ranks will increase and morale will decrease as the number of silenced victims grows.”

Republicans in the Senate on Sept. 11 introduced a bill protecting military chaplains from being forced to perform same-sex “marriage” ceremonies.

The measure, introduced by Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also forbids the performance of “marriage” services for gay and lesbian couples on military bases.

The effort, similar to one introduced in the House earlier this year, is designed to reassert the authority of the Defense of Marriage Act in the aftermath of the ending of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last year. The Department of Defense already has authorized chaplains to perform same-sex “marriages” on military bases in states that recognize such unions. 

Some soldiers are fearful that the changing military culture could force conservative Christian denominations to withdraw their support for the chaplain program.

“This bill protects military chaplains from being forced to go against their conscience and religious beliefs in regard to this issue,” Sen. Inhofe said. “This is something the chaplains that serve this country need and deserve.”

While the House version to protect religious freedom passed earlier this summer, the Democratic-led Senate is not expected to approve the Senate bill.

And in the House many Republican lawmakers seem reluctant to continue fighting to overturn the repeal. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters in June that he considered the matter settled.

“We fought that fight,” McKeon said regarding failed efforts by Republicans to prevent the repeal. “That’s not something that I would personally bring up.”

Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals make up an estimated 2 percent of the 2.2 million service members on active duty and serving in the reserves or the National Guard. Since the policy change the military has seen its first openly gay general and its first gay “wedding” performed at a military base.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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