Metro Weekly

Defense Bill Conference Report Strips Anti-Gay House Language, Keeps Military Sodomy Ban

Following the report that the House and Senate conferees had reached a compromise on the National Defense Authorization Act, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network announced this evening that both amendments opposed by LGBT advocates in the House version of the NDAA were dropped from the conference report. SLDN also announced, however, that a provision in the Senate version of the NDAA that would have repealed the military’s sodomy prohibition was not included in the conference report.

One of the dropped House provisions, proposed by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), “reaffirm[ed] the policy of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.” The amendment — made applicable to the NDAA by referencing Department of Defense rules, regulations and employees — also repeats Section 3’s policy of defining “marriage” and “spouse” as relating only to opposite-sex marriages.

The other, offered by Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), would have expanded upon the current restrictions of DOMA by effectively banning same-sex marriages from being performed at military bases or by military employees. Akin’s amendment would have prohibited weddings from taking place on military installations, such as bases, or other Defense Department property if they don’t comply with DOMA. It also would have prohibited chaplains or other Defense employees from performing non-DOMA-compliant marriages while “acting in an official capacity.”

SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis said in a statement, “We congratulate the House and Senate conference committee for having struck the correct balance on the chaplains provisions. Clearly, there was no place for the restrictive Akin language as the Defense Department continues to move forward on effective implementation of open service in our military. This report demonstrates that a majority in Congress remains committed to, and in lock step with the Pentagon, in ensuring that we stay on the repeal course adopted by the last Congress and signed off on by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. There was no back tracking in the conference report on this front.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, also noted the move, saying in a statement, “Anti-gay attacks and infusion of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act have no place in legislation designed to support all the brave men and women who fight to defend this nation. Gay and lesbian servicemembers risk their lives every day and Freedom to Marry is pleased that the conference committee agreed with us and voted to remove these discriminatory anti-gay provisions from the bill.”

Sarvis said of the decision on the sodomy provision: “However, we are very disappointed that the conferees voted to keep the sodomy provisions in Article 125 [of the Uniform Code of Military Justice]. Dropping Article 125 has been recommended for more than a decade by SLDN and several groups, including the Cox Commission that includes distinguished legal scholars from the military and academia, as well as the Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG). The Senate was right to take this action, and it is unfortunate that their attempt to end Article 125 did not prevail. SLDN will continue to work with the Senate, House, and Department of Defense to bring about  this needed change.”

Sarvis also noted, “Additionally, our initial reading of the committee’s decision to update the provisions for rape and sexual assault in Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is also positive.”

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