Following criticism from a group of Republican lawmakers, the Navy has abruptly suspended its guidelines for implementing the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" that would have allowed same-sex couples to get married on military bases in states where such unions are legal.
Chief of Navy Chaplains Rear Adm. Mark Tidd said that his earlier instructions -- which would have allowed gay service members to exchange vows in base chapels with Navy chaplains performing the ceremony -- were suspended subject to further review. In a memo late on Tuesday, Tidd wrote that the guidelines were to be "suspended until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination."
In his original memo, dated April 13, Tidd wrote that Navy chaplains could receive training to perform these same-sex marriage ceremonies. "Regarding the use of base facilities for same-sex marriages, legal counsel has concluded that, generally speaking, base facility use is sexual orientation-neutral," Tidd wrote. "This is a change to previous training that stated same-sex marriages are not authorized on federal property."
Navy chaplains may perform such ceremonies if they are "consistent with the tenets of his or her religious organization" and take place in states where same-sex unions are legal, Tidd's original guidelines stated.
The Navy and Defense Department counsels will be reviewing the guidelines, according to Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan, as the memo had sparked political and legal questions. While all of the services are in the process of conducting training for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which had banned gay and lesbian service members from serving openly in the military, this aspect is the only one currently under review, Lapan said.
The decision to review the Navy's repeal guidelines comes on the heels of heavy criticism from Capitol Hill and ensuing media attention.
A group of 63 Republican lawmakers objected to the policy in a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus late last week. "Offering up federal facilities and federal employees for same-sex marriages violates [the Defense of Marriage Act], which is still the law of the land and binds our military, including chaplains," they wrote.
The Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, legally defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, is spearheading the effort to reverse the Navy's guidelines on same-sex marriage on bases. "This new guidance from the Navy clearly violates the law. While our President may not like this law, it is unbelievable that our Navy would issue guidance that clearly violates this law," Akin said in a statement. "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."
Akin plans to offer an amendment during the Armed Services Committee markup of the Defense authorization act Wednesday stipulating that military installations or other Defense Department property may not be used for marriage ceremonies that do not fall under DOMA's definition of marriage -- whether or not the state allows same-sex marriage. Akin's amendment would also bar any service member -- including a chaplain or civilian DOD employee -- from assisting in or performing wedding ceremonies not recognized under DOMA.
The military training to apply the DADT's repeal is expected to be completed this summer. The suspension means that Navy chaplains are training for repeal as they were before the April 13 memo.
"Training is continuing as planned, and when further guidance becomes available it will be distributed throughout the chaplain corps," Navy spokeswoman Lt. Alana Garas told National Journal. "Further guidance [about officiating same-sex marriages] will be available once policy and legal implications are considered."