Kaylia M. Metcalfe
(Author’s note: The following article was written on Dec. 15, 2011, two full weeks before distribution. It is highly likely that the facts of this case have changed since the writing and equally possible that the process of passing the bill have continued, stalled or reversed. The following article reflects only the facts as they were known at the time of writing.)
Earlier this week, a final version of the yearly defense spending bill was presented without a few of the promised anti-gay amendments.
Back in October, U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon (R‒CA) had sworn that the defense bill would not make it far unless amendments, concerning chaplains and gay marriage were included. Other Republicans were quick to join the fray, but ultimately the need to pass a defense bill surpassed their need to facilitate bigotry and the amendments were pulled.
At stake were the rights of military chaplains and same-sex couples.
Last September, after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) had ended, a memo released by the Pentagon authorized military chaplains to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies provided that “the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law.” The memo continued “a chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenants of his or her religion.”
This language might sound familiar. It is called religious exemption, and many feel that it is unnecessary. Currently, if you are either a straight or a same-sex couple attempting to hire clergy for your wedding, they can decline for a variety of reasons. They don’t know you, you aren’t a part of their church or religion, they know you failed your pre-marriage counseling sessions, they know you refused to take pre-marriage counseling, they are busy, they are in a bad mood, they think you would be better matched with their nephew or the like.
The reason that “religious exemptions” are necessary is because groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and Focus on the Family have been so successful in their fear-mongering campaigns that people are concerned about clergy being forced to do dark diabolical deeds. The cry of “We must protect religion” is a battle cry that the Religious Right has fine-tuned into a pristine weapon against critical thinking, but that’s another issue.
The September memo paved the way for same-sex marriage by military chaplains because the Obama administration had announced that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and therefore they would no longer be defending it. The stage was set for political grandstanding.
The Religious Right/The Republican Party amped up their cries of intolerance and McKeon was one of the many beating that dead horse. “We think that chaplains should not be forced to do something that goes against their conscience,” he said in October drawing a line in the sand concerning the defense bill.
Despite the bogusness of their implications, the public rallied and people raised grave concerns about forcing religious people to do unreligious things. Rep. Todd Akin (R‒MO) accused the Department of Defense of putting “the White House’s liberal agenda ahead of following the law.” He introduced amendments banning military chaplains from voluntarily officiating gay marriage ceremonies and barring any such ceremonies from military facilities.
The public rallied again. A defense bill is needed to clothe, support and maintain our military; were the Republicans so hard-headed that they would stall its passage?
We have now reached, or are about to reach, a tipping point in terms of same-sex marriage. As more and more people support the idea, the other side has only two options: dig in their heels and rely on their dwindling (yet still strong) numbers for support or back away with as much dignity as possible.
Eventually, and many think it won’t be too terribly long, being an open bigot against the LGBT community will be on par with being openly racist. We aren’t there yet, but the childish shenanigans on display by the Republicans are getting tired, even to their supporters.
Would they really be that petulant as to keep the defense bill from creation? It’s hard to be the party of flag-waving, apple-pie-eating, true patriots when you are the ones blocking food and supplies to the military.
And so they backed down. The amendments were stripped.
But lest you think that they went quietly into the night—one little amendment remained.
“Any person who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense. Any person found guilty of sodomy shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
The fact that sodomy is treated as the sister perversion to bestiality is horrific but apparently acceptable. The fact that couples (gay and straight) will need to curtail their sexual acts to only those on the approved “natural” list is downright shameful.
And yet the inclusion of this amendment was the compromise from the “liberal” side of the aisle. One can only hope that the defense bill was worth it.
Kaylia Metcalfe is a writer, blogger and activist in Fresno. She is a co-founder of Skeptics Without a Cause and serves on the Gay Central Valley Board of Directors. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.