The US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] on Friday issued a memorandum [text, PDF] giving military chaplains permission to participate in or officiate same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] ceremonies. The memorandum, released by Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Dr. Clifford Stanley [official profile] further provides that chaplains can perform a ceremony either on or off military property as long as it complies with state and local laws. Chaplains are also not required to participate or officiate if it "would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion or personal beliefs." The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) [advocacy website] applauded [statement] the DOD's decision:
The guidance issued today strikes the right balance between respecting the faith traditions of chaplains and affording all service members the same rights under current law. This is another logical step in the direction of full equality for gay and lesbian service members, and we hope the Department will continue to move down that path.The SLDN also voiced its support for another decision issued [text, PDF] earlier in September providing that all determinations regarding the use of DOD facilities will be made on a sexual-orientation neutral basis.
The announcement regarding same-sex ceremonies comes just 10 days after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) [10 USC § 654; JURIST backgrounder] officially went into effect [JURIST report]. Earlier this week, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] unanimously vacated [JURIST report] a district court ruling that DADT was a violation of service members' constitutional rights, holding that the case became moot after the repeal. In July, the Ninth Circuit ruled that DADT would remain partially in effect [JURIST report] during the 60 days prior to its newly-scheduled repeal. The court effectively reiterated its order [JURIST report] issued the previous week, in which it reinstated DADT but explicitly ordered the military to refrain from investigating, penalizing or discharging any of its members as originally provided for under the policy. Hours earlier, President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified DADT's repeal [JURIST report], scheduling the policy to end on September 20. Obama signed the bill to repeal DADT [JURIST report] in December. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 [HR 2965 materials] was approved in the Senate in December after being passed [JURIST reports] by the House of Representatives the week before. Since the enactment of DADT in 1993, approximately 13,000 servicemen and women have been discharged from the armed forces as a result of the policy.