Last night President Obama signed the funding authorization bill for the Department of Defense which includes “protections” against the punishment of military members and clergy who harass gay soldiers. Those so-called protections, sponsored by Rep. Todd Akin, were discussed here last month and were backed by GOP House members opposed to the repeal of DADT. The president included a signing statement which indicates his objection to the anti-gay portion of the bill.
Section 533 is an unnecessary and ill-advised provision, as the military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members. The Secretary of Defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct. My Administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; Section 533 will not alter that.
In December the Washington Blade analyzed the anti-gay language of the bill.
Under the language, the U.S. military would have 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 may not use these beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action or discrimination. Additionally, it would prohibit the U.S. military from taking action against military chaplains who decline to serve a particular service member based on religious beliefs.
This language has been understood to mean service members could actively harass their fellow comrades for their perceived or actual sexual orientation without fear of reprisal. Additionally, it has been understood to mean that chaplains would have free rein to discriminate against service members on any basis — including religion, gender, sexual orientation, race or any other characteristic — simply by saying serving them is contrary to their beliefs.
Our enemies will surely call this a victory and I’ll have their reactions later today as they arrive.
UDPATE: The ACLU has issued a reaction.
“The language is too broad,” said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who cautioned that it could lead to claims of a right to discriminate. “We strongly support accommodating beliefs, so long as doing so does not result in discrimination or harm to others,” Murphy said. “The hastily drafted provision, though, has the potential to give rise to dangerous claims of a right to discriminate against not just lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, but also women, religious minorities, and in the provision of health care.” In a signing statement that accompanied the NDAA, President Obama said his administration “remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members” and that the Department of Defense, in implementing Section 533, will “not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct.” Murphy said, “It is encouraging that the president recognizes why this provision is so problematic. Going forward, it is essential for the Department of Defense to ensure that no accommodation of religious belief or conscience can result in discrimination or harm to others.”