Anti-LGBT provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act
We have written a number of times on this blog in the last weeks with updates on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. This controversial bill passed the House of Representatives in May and the Senate earlier this month. A conference committee, which includes members of both the House and the Senate, is currently working out the differences between the two bills and a report and final vote are expected in the coming days.
The version that passed the House in May included two provisions that seriously threaten to undermine the steps the military has taken toward eliminating discrimination against LGBT service-members since repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Section 536 requires the military to “accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of the members of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality” and that these beliefs may not be the basis for any adverse personnel action. Section 537 prohibits performing same-sex marriages on Department of Defense property, even in the nine states that have now granted full legal recognition to such ceremonies.
Together, Secs. 536 and 537 undermine religious freedom by enshrining a particular religious perspective into law and may result in the same discrimination against and isolation of LGBT service members that occurred before the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As we progress further toward a world in which marriage equality is not dictated by state lines, we are already positive that no clergy will ever be required to perform a marriage ceremony that violates the teachings of their faith. All service members should be allowed to hold their own religious beliefs, but not to the extent that such beliefs result in discriminatory action against gay and lesbian service members who then have no access to recourse.
Advocates for LGBT rights, civil rights and former military leaders are speaking out calling for these provisions to be stripped from the final NDAA. Allyson Robinson, executive director of OUTSERVE-Service-members Legal Defense Network, argued that the proposals would seriously hamper the military’s ability to function: “As a former military commander, I can tell you that allowing any service member to openly discriminate against a comrade in this way will compromise good order and discipline — the very thing supporters of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ falsely claimed was going to happen back when we repealed the law.”
The Union for Reform Judaism is joining the call against these provisions and its infringement on the religious freedom and civil rights of service-members. Rabbis from around the country called into their members of Congress today, urging them to remove Sections 536 and 537 from the final bill.