President Obama has signed the National Defense Authorization Act, but he issued several signing statements qualifying his measured support of its various provisions. In particular, he condemned the “conscience clause” included in the conference version of the bill, a watered-down version of the “license to discriminate” proposed by Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) last year. President Obama made it clear he will not tolerate any attempt to promote anti-gay views in the military:
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.
The final version of the language was so softened from its original proposal so as to simply be a redundant iteration of protections that already exist ensuring servicemembers cannot be penalized for their beliefs. Still, its inclusion represents conservatives’ latest attempt to protect anti-gay discrimination and stigma under the shroud of “religious freedom.”