WASHINGTON (BP) — Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land has called on President Obama and Congress to overturn immediately the Pentagon’s approval of gay “weddings” on military bases and by military chaplains.
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) urged the White House to repeal the decision and the federal government to enact a policy that is faithful to its law defining marriage as a union only of a man and a woman. Land made the requests in an Oct. 13 letter to Obama and an Oct. 12 letter to congressional leaders.
The ERLC decries the Pentagon’s action, Land said, “and we are outraged by the brashness of this attack on traditional marriage. We urge swift action to repeal these decisions.”
The Pentagon’s action, Land said, also violates the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman. “[W]e declare that the military should not be allowed to subvert recent, bipartisan, and public approved legislation by supporting and sponsoring same-sex marriage,” Land said.
The Department of Defense (DOD) announced the policy changes Sept. 30, only 10 days after its ban on open homosexuality in the armed services was officially lifted. The reversal came in two memos: (1) One clarified that a chaplain may participate in a private wedding at or away from a military installation if such a ceremony is not outlawed at the state or local level; (2) the other said decisions about the use of military facilities for private occasions “should be made on a sexual-orientation neutral basis, provided such use is not prohibited by applicable state and local laws.”
In his letters, Land said the ERLC “strongly objects” to the White House’s effort to promote its “pro-homosexual agenda by targeting America’s armed forces.”
The new policy “degrades both the tradition of high moral conduct in the military and the vital and exclusive role of traditional marriage in society and within our military,” he said.
The House of Representatives has passed a Defense authorization bill that would bar the performance of gay “marriage” ceremonies by military chaplains and at military installations. Land said such language should be included in the legislation that becomes law.
The Pentagon’s revised policy says a chaplain is not required to take part in a private ceremony if doing so would conflict with his or her “religion or personal beliefs,” but Land called for stronger protections for “the religious freedom and rights of conscience of military chaplains who object to same-sex unions.” He said he joined more than 2,000 chaplains in seeking enactment of a right of conscience clause in the military code of law to protect chaplains’ religious freedom.
The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, which consists of more than 2,000 largely evangelical Christian military chaplains, has said its members will not perform gay “weddings.” The Roman Catholic Archdiocese for Military Service also has said its members will not officiate at such ceremonies.
The Department of Justice announced this year it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act against legal challenges. The House, controlled by Republicans, has chosen to argue in court on behalf of DOMA, which was signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Land told Obama and congressional leaders that messengers to the two most recent Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings had adopted resolutions on the homosexuals in the military issue. Messengers restated their support for DOMA in 2011 and reiterated their backing for the military ban on open homosexuality in 2010.
The recently rescinded prohibition of open homosexuality in the military went into effect in 1993. Known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the policy barred homosexuals from serving openly and also prohibited military commanders from asking service members if they are homosexual or about their “sexual orientation.”
The ERLC and other opponents of rescinding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell have warned its repeal will result in infringements on the religious liberty of chaplains and other military personnel, as well as harm to the readiness, privacy and retention of service members.
A copy of Land’s Oct. 13 letter to Obama also went to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
The Oct. 12 letter went to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as the chairman and lead Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. It also was sent to Speaker of the House John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as the chairman and lead Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.