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 provision.

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 the bill.”

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.