Why Do Conservatives Oppose Military Chaplains’ Religious Liberty?

Last week, the Pentagon announced that military chaplains will be permitted to perform same-sex marriages on or off military bases so long as the marriages do not violate state or local laws. Conservatives like Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) have criticized this decision, suggesting it somehow circumvents the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages. This week, equality opponents are arguing that allowing chaplains to practice a religious belief recognizing same-sex unions is “breaking the law.” The American Family Association reported these talking points from the Family Research Council’s national security senior fellow, Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis:

He stresses that such officials are paid by the federal government, and he believes that even if the ceremonies are conducted by chaplains as private citizens, they will still be violating the law, “because a chaplain is on duty 7/24; they’re never off duty — just like every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine in the armed forces today. So that’s important to understand when you put this particular issue in context,” he says.

This is preposterous in the context of DOMA, as the law does not limit the religious ceremonies a military chaplain can perform. Furthermore, allowing same-sex couples to use military bases for their ceremonies in no way constitutes recognition of their marriages. Their argument suggests that chaplains and couples who marry on a base would somehow be breaking the law and could be charged. Enforcing the law in such a way would be tantamount to a “Prohibition” on same-sex marriages, with supportive chaplains having to set up the equivalent of “speakeasies” to marry couples in secret.

Conservatives have long opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on the grounds that it will curb the “religious liberties” of military chaplains who condemn homosexuality. If these conservative groups actually cared about military chaplains, they would stand up for the “religious liberty” of those who support same-sex marriage too.