May 11, 2011 -- The Navy has abruptly reversed course on new guidelines that would have eventually allowed same-sex couples to wed on its bases -- with Navy chaplains performing the ceremony -- after "don't ask, don't tell" is officially repealed.
In a memo released late Tuesday, chief Navy chaplain Mark Tidd said his previous instructions, part of the military's ongoing effort to revise its policies before lifting the ban on openly gay service members, were "suspended until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination."
A Navy spokesman declined to elaborate on reasons for the move. But it follows mounting pressure from a group of 63 congressional Republicans who objected to the policy change in a letter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus late last week.
"Offering up federal facilities and federal employees for same-sex marriages violates DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], which is still the law of the land and binds our military, including chaplains," they wrote. The law defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Calif., who is leading the opposition, plans to introduce an amendment to a House armed services bill today that would bar Pentagon employees -- or facilities -- from being used for marriage ceremonies not recognized under DOMA.
The Navy had said allowing gay service members to exchange vows in base chapels and other places used to celebrate marriage was consistent with federal law so long as the ceremonies occurred in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
"Legal counsel has concluded that, generally speaking, base facility use is sexual orientation neutral," Tidd wrote in a memo April 13.
Navy chaplains could also officiate in marriage ceremonies if they're consistent with their religious beliefs and comply with state and local laws in which they are performed, he said.
"DOMA does not limit the type of religious ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military installation," Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said Monday 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."
That reasoning is now undergoing additional legal review.
"This should focus on the law, not on the irrational fears of opponents who want to interject the gay marriage debate into the defense spending bill, where it does not belong," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Service Members Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group. "The Navy and their lawyers got this right last month."
How to handle same-sex marriages by service members is one of several issues the Pentagon is weighing as it prepares to put in place a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which President Obama signed into law in December. 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.
Some Republicans in Congress have tried to slow the change by requiring that all four military service chiefs -- who have previously opposed repeal of the policy -- be included in its certification. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., plans to introduce a legislative amendment today.
"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," Hunter 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.