Friday, June 26, 2015

Chaplains and same-sex marriage

Today's 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case, will be discussed far and wide in the coming weeks and months. Presumably there will now be times when military chaplains decline to officiate at such nuptials on the grounds that it is contrary to the doctrine of their endorsing faith group (indeed, perhaps these issues have already come up). Federal law provides:

Protection of Rights of Conscience of Armed Forces Members and Chaplains.
[Most recent version is § 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, Pub. L. No. 112-239, as amended by § 532 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, Pub. L. No. 113-66]:

(a) Protection of rights of conscience.— 
(1) Accommodation. Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Armed Forces shall accommodate individual expressions of belief of a member of the armed forces reflecting the sincerely held conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such expression of belief as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.

(2) Disciplinary or administrative action.--Nothing in paragraph (1) precludes disciplinary or administrative action for conduct that is proscribed by chapter 47 of title 10, United States Code (the Uniform Code of Military Justice), including actions and speech that threaten good order and discipline.

(b) Protection of chaplain decisions relating to conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs.--No member of the Armed Forces may—

(1) require a chaplain to perform any rite, ritual, or ceremony that is contrary to the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the chaplain; or 
(2) discriminate or take any adverse personnel action against a chaplain, including denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment, on the basis of the refusal by the chaplain to comply with a requirement prohibited by paragraph (1).
NBC News is running this story. Excerpts:
Any military chaplain or clergy can refuse to perform a same sex marriage "if it is not in line with the tenets of their faith." But same-sex couples are free to pick their own clergy member to perform their ceremony.

Same-sex marriage ceremonies have been taking place in military chapels since September 2013, when the Pentagon ruled that same sex partners of a service member were entitled to the same benefits provided to opposite sex couples, such as health care, access to military facilities and services on all military bases.

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