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Will Gay Marriage Oust Military Chaplains?

The question of legalization of same-sex marriages is generally presented as one of protecting the individual rights of gay citizens. And so long as the issue is merely one of whether the state should interfere with the desire of two persons to live as they like, that’s an argument that strongly appeals to the libertarian instincts of the majority of Americans. However, the problem arises when approval leads to government mandates that affect religious faiths that don’t approve of these relationships. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of the adoption field in certain states. And if President Obama has his way on the issue, the next victims may be military chaplains.

As CNSNews.com reports:

The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

While there are arguments that can be mustered against prohibiting the use of military facilities for same-sex ceremonies, opposition to a measure that would ensure that chaplains couldn’t be ordered to officiate would imply a degree of compulsion that transforms the issue into a religious freedom fight rather than one of gay rights. If President Obama does veto the protections offered to chaplains by the House — as his Office of Management and Budget recommends — then it is possible to envision a future where Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Jewish clergy will no longer be welcome as military chaplains.

At the American Conservative, Rod Dreher quotes American Jewish Congress chief counsel Marc Stern as saying that, “no one seriously believes that clergy will be forced, or even asked, to perform marriages that are anathema to them.” Yet the “sea change” that same-sex marriage will create in American law will bring with it consequences that advocates for this measure aren’t acknowledging. As Dreher writes:

The strategy of the pro-SSM side seems to be to deny that anything like this could possibly happen, and that people who say it could are being irresponsible scaremongers. Then when it actually happens, they’ll say oh, who cares; those bigots deserve what they get.

Dreher is right. The legal problem here is not so much the direct issue of redefining marriage from the traditional understanding of it being one man and one woman. Rather, it is the implications that stem from government sanction that will redefine some religious believers as being outside of not only mainstream opinion but literally outlaws and vulnerable to prosecution and/or defunding on the grounds of discrimination against gays.

The only way for advocates of same-sex marriage to avoid the stigmatizing of some faiths in this manner is to agree to legal stipulations that remove any possibility that religious institutions could be compelled to sanction behavior their religion regards as immoral. But if they refuse to do so, as the White House is indicating with its opposition to House protections for military chaplains, then gay marriage ceases to be a civil rights issue and becomes the focal point of a kulturkampf in which religious freedom is on the line. If that is the way things are heading, then military chaplains won’t be the last victims in the purge of believers.


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