'Don't Ask, Don't Tell': Navy OKs Bases, Chaplains for Same-Sex Marriages After Repeal

Some gay couples can wed on bases after "don't ask, don't tell" is repealed.

ByABC News
May 10, 2011, 11:38 AM

May 10, 2011— -- The Navy will allow same-sex couples to wed in ceremonies on its bases and officiated by Navy chaplains after the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is officially repealed, according to new training guidelines published last month by the Navy's chief of chaplains.

The changes, outlined in an April 13 memo from Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, come as part of the military's ongoing effort to revise its policies and train troops before lifting the ban on openly gay military service members.

In states where same-sex marriage is legal, gay service members will be allowed exchange vows in base chapels and other places used to celebrate marriage, according to the memo.

"Legal counsel has concluded that, generally speaking, base facility use is sexual orientation neutral," Tidd wrote.

A Navy chaplain will also be able to officiate the marriage ceremony, if it's consistent with his or her religious beliefs and complies with state and local laws in which it is performed, he said.

Training guidelines for Army and Air Force chaplains do not mention issues surrounding same-sex marriage ceremonies, although officials said that does not mean the ceremonies are necessarily prohibited.

The prospect of same-sex marriages at U.S. military installations has drawn fire from Republicans, who say the ceremonies would violate the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman for federal purposes.

"Offering up federal facilities and federal employees for same-sex marriages violates DOMA, which is still the law of the land and binds our military, including chaplains," 63 conservative Republican congressmen wrote in a letter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.

"The Navy and Marine Corps and all the Armed Services are sworn to obey the law, which this new instruction violates," they wrote.

Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said Monday that the marriages, in states where they are legal, are essentially religious ceremonies that are not restricted by federal law.

"DOMA does not limit the type of religious ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military installation," she said in a statement. "Chaplains are authorized to perform religious ceremonies consistent with the practices of the chaplain's faith group in chapels on military installations."

Married same-sex couples remain barred from receiving federal marriage benefits involving taxes, social security, health care and housing.

President Obama signed a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" into law in December, but the policy is still in effect until 60 days after Obama and the Pentagon certify the armed forces are ready for the change.

Officials expect certification could happen as soon as this summer.

Meanwhile, some Republicans in Congress are trying to slow the change by requiring all four military service chiefs -- who have previously opposed repeal of the policy -- to be included in the certification process.

"The four military service chiefs are far more closely connected to the day-to-day realities facing each respective service branch than those who are currently required to sign off on the repeal, including the president," Rep. Duncan Hunter of California said.

"Any movement toward implementation must be efficient and show respect for the culture and tradition unique to each service branch and the military as a whole," he said.

Democrats and some moderate Republicans have vowed to oppose any such change.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.