A Congressional conference committee to
reconcile differences between House and Senate defense bills has
dropped two anti-gay measures but kept the military's sodomy
Leaders of the House and Senate Armed
Services Committee announced late Monday that they had reached
agreement on the details of the $662 billion defense bill.
Gay rights advocates hailed the
conference for removing two House amendments related to marriage.
In a memo issued by Under Secretary of
Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley, chaplains may
officiate the marriage and civil union ceremonies of gay couples,
including on a military installation.
The amendments, sponsored by Republican
Representatives Vicky Hartzer and Todd Akin of Missouri, stated that
the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law which bars federal
agencies and the military from recognizing the legal marriages of gay
couples, prohibits the use of military facilities and the
participation of military personnel in such ceremonies.
“Anti-gay attacks and infusion of the
so-called Defense of Marriage Act have no place in legislation
designed to support all the brave men and women who fight to defend
this nation,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry.
“Gay and lesbian servicemembers risk their lives every day and
Freedom to Marry is pleased that the conference committee agreed with
us and voted to remove these discriminatory anti-gay provisions from
However, the committee decided in favor
of Senator Roger Wicker's (R-Miss) amendment that reiterates that
chaplains are free to decline to participate in such ceremonies.
“This amendment will allow the
chaplains of our Armed Forces to maintain the freedom of conscience
necessary to serve both their Nation and their religion without
conflict,” Wicker said in a statement released with the amendment's
introduction last month. “Protections for military chaplains
should be guaranteed in any policy changes being implemented.”
Activists had also sought removal of
language that outlaws sodomy in the military.
“[W]e are very disappointed that the
conference voted to keep the sodomy provisions in Article 125,”
said Aubrey Sarvis of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).
“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 (CRWG).”
The House and Senate must approve the
final bill before it heads to the president's desk.