When Republicans won the House majority in November 2010, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) — the current chairman of the House Armed Services Committee — pledged to pass clean defense bills that were “not weighed down” by social issues. “Congress should pass clean legislation — without the liberal social agenda items Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid have insisted on attaching in the run-up to the election,” McKeon said, referring to amendments to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and enact hate crimes protections. He added: “The National Defense Authorization Act—especially in wartime—should be focused on one core equity: caring and providing for the men and women in uniform and their families.”
But McKeon is ready to break his promise. Following the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, the Department of Defense announced that it would allow chaplains to perform same-sex marriages on military bases. McKeon is threatening to derail the entire Defense Authorization Bill unless it includes an amendment outlawing the practice:
MCKEON: We think that chaplains should not be forced to do something that goes against their conscience.
REPORTER: They wouldn’t be forced, they would be allowed, if it’s with their conscience.
MCKEON: [smiles and snickers] … I know how you get the camel’s nose in the tent and it starts expanding…
REPORTER: Is this issue for you worth not having a defense authorization bill?
The Senate version of the defense bill — which has passed the Senate Armed Services Committee and now awaits a vote by the full Senate — does not include the marriage ban, setting up a clash between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate. As CAP’s Larry Korb points out in a new column today, McKeon’s favored “amendment has nothing to do with national security. Instead, it injects the authorization bill with provisions that would restrict chaplains’ religious freedom to preside over wedding ceremonies in accordance with their faith.”
Holding up the measure wouldn’t just undermine McKeon’s promise to keep social issues out of the legislation, but also endanger key military priorities, like troop pay bonuses, death benefits for families of military personnel, authorization for “special operations”, “Afghanistan’s national security training” and “programs to secure vulnerable fissile material.”