My Radical Homosexual Agenda for the Military

Mark Shea is in agreement with Rod Dreher that Obama and the Dems are mounting a serious assault on the religious liberty of military chaplains. Quoth Dreher (quoting the news first):

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 perform ceremonies that conflict with their beliefs, according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

If this goes through, the Catholic and the Orthodox chaplains will have to be withdrawn from the US military. Many Evangelical chaplains will choose to leave. If same-sex marriage is constitutionalized by Supreme Court ruling, then I don’t see how even a legislative exemption would be possible. This is another one of the answers to the question, “How does my gay neighbor’s marriage to his partner affect me?”

There are two parts of this defense authorization bill rider, and I want to address them separately.  (Well, there are three parts, if you want to pause with me and think about how you would object to sticking regulations of chaplaincy into a must-pass defense bill, if it weren’t for the fact that you are still angry that we have must-pass defense bills for our wars of choice, drone campaigns, and gargantuan military-industrial complex, and that this isn’t the correct reason to have qualms about the bill.) [/end tangent]

What is the rider meant to do?  First, it bans the use of military property for same-sex weddings in states where they’re legal and same-sex “commitment ceremonies”/”handfastings”/whatnot in states where same-sex civil marriage is illegal, but some religions still want to recognize and solemnize these relationships.  Banning clergy from carrying out these ceremonies is a restriction on religious freedom.  Plenty of churches, synagogues, etc do allow same-sex weddings, and this bill would prohibit chaplains in those faiths from performing marriages that their tradition and the state recognizes as valid.

The only justification for this part of the bill is a desire to put up impediments to gay weddings.  And there’s no reason why a wedding performed on a base by a liberal chaplain should cause an Orthodox, Catholic, or conservative evangelical chaplain to resign.  After all, they already may share space with clergy conducting marriages that are non-sacramental  (two atheists) or non-valid (a lapsed Catholic divorcee) in the eyes of their faith.

The second issue, the conscience objection, is a little more complicated.  I’m not sure exactly what it’s meant to protect chaplains from.  Currently, no one can force a Catholic chaplain to conduct weddings that are invalid or non-sacramental according to the Church.  I don’t see why there would need to be a special piece of legislation enumerating marriages that some churches don’t see as valid (and having the state make such a list seems like asking for trouble).  If the rider is meant to recognize the fact that no one can compel the clergy to marry same-sex couples, I don’t object, but it seems awfully superfluous.

My liberal posse and I have no problem with conscience objections for religious ceremonies.  We just get a little nervous when the conscience clause gets expanded to include spiritual counseling.  In the military, a soldier’s counselling options are limited, so gay soldiers may want to talk to chaplains that don’t share their moral beliefs or even their underlying faith. (I don’t think there are a lot of reconstructionist Jews serving as chaplains).  The concern folks on my team tend to have is that a chaplain might refuse to counsel a gay soldier or would harass them under the cover of religious freedom.

This is a delicate problem on both sides, but not a totally new one, since weird chaplaincy-soldier matchups already occur. My side just wants to make it less likely that a gay Christian soldier who wants to talk to the conservative evangelical chaplain in her unit about expanding her prayer life isn’t going to get harangued as an abomination. (Which seems like bad tactics for the chaplain in the first place).

I’m not sure exactly how this should work out in practice, any more than I know how exactly an evangelical chaplain who sees Rome as the Whore of Babylon should talk to a Catholic soldier who is doubting his faith.  It’s unreasonable to ask the chaplain to pretend to be non-denominational, but the chaplaincy is supposed to offer some kind of safety and security to soldiers.  It’s a ticklish business, and I don’t expect that riders positioned as photo-ops for the culture war are going to help anyone sort it out.

And that’s the limit of my radical homosexual agenda.  In this arena, anyway.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Tiparillo

    Thanks for taking the time to lay this out. Many of the same points have been made an Mr. Dreher’s comments section. But from watching Mr. Dreher on this subject before, expect for him to keep yelling that the sky is falling.

  • Alex Godofsky

    The fear that gay rights activists will eventually encroach on religious freedom – that churches may be forced to provide weddings for gay couples, etc. – isn’t unfounded. It comes from the direct example of the civil rights movement. The government went far beyond simple legal equality; it explicity curtailed freedom of association in unprecedented ways. In effect all the non-racists ganged up and told the racists that 1) they were not allowed to be racist anymore and 2) if they acted racist in any material way the lawsuit hammer would smack them down hard. This was actually the right thing to do because of how pervasive segregation was, but it cost us a lot of credibility. If I were opposed to gay marriage I’d be suspicious of the liberal agenda too.

    • math_geek

      Thank you. And this is only exacerbated by the argument that anti-gay rights and anti-gay behaviour is the “same thing” as racism. Racism and segregation were so pervasive and so codified and so socially enforced that the Civil Rights hammer was probably necessary, and certainly justifiable. I’m personally pretty sympathetic to accommodating same-sex couples in their desire to marry, but I can’t help but be a bit nervous at how anti-discrimination legislation coupled with same-sex marriage legislation could be used to bring a similar hammer down on my faith tradition. If I were to believe that was the end goal of the gay-rights movement, I’d pretty much have to oppose same-sex marriage legislation. I’m a good deal less conservative than my Christian denomination, but these are my people…

    • Sarah TX

      OK, well, we have a direct analogue in the case of Loving vs. the State of Virginia. How many churches were forced to perform weddings for interracial couples, which they otherwise would have not agreed to do? Are there any lawsuits where a minister/pastor/priest was criminally or civilly charged for refusing such a ceremony? Surely this should be a relatively common event.

      • Alex Godofsky

        I’m not claiming that the anti-gay marriage crowd’s fears are correct, that we really will fall down this particular slippery slope. I’m claiming that their worries have a reasonable basis and aren’t just paranoia.

        Also, if a church refused to perform an interracial marriage today it could easily make the national news – in fact, wasn’t there a story about that in the past year? Even if it didn’t, that sort of church is almost universally scorned. math_geek’s comment above echoes precisely this sort of fear.

        Come to think of it, if not for the obvious connection to the gay marriage issue, you probably could get majority support today for a bill that required churches to conduct interracial marriage (though the courts would probably strike it down).

        • Ryan

          “Also, if a church refused to perform an interracial marriage today it could easily make the national news – in fact, wasn’t there a story about that in the past year? Even if it didn’t, that sort of church is almost universally scorned.”
          You speak of an issue of public opinion, which has almost nothing to do with laws, but with public opinion. As public opinion changes, people pass different laws. Public opinion generally does not change as the result of laws passed.
          Relating to your earlier statement:
          ” In effect all the non-racists ganged up and told the racists that 1) they were not allowed to be racist anymore”
          That just isn’t true. Socially, sure, it is unacceptable, however the laws that protect the rights of, say, a neo-nazi organization or the KKK to assemble still stand and are still valid. In fact, these organizations regularly do things like picket funerals of prominent members of minority groups, and quite legally.
          So, if the fear that people have is of thier beliefs becoming socially unacceptable, that is one thing, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with law or policy. If they are concerned about not being allowed to exclude people from thier religious groups by law, I’m afraid there is no precedent for that ever happening in this nation.

          • Alex Godofsky

            People used to use homeowners’ associations to keep neighborhoods segregated. Now there are strict regulations on housing advertisements to prevent even the softest forms of racial discrimination. Businesses used to openly refuse to hire black employees or serve black customers. Now they can be sued for accidentally discriminating through IQ tests and such. These are dramatic restrictions on the right to free association; it isn’t complete lunacy to suggest churches might not be sacrosanct either.

    • Donalbain

      Really? So when churches refuse to marry mixed race couples, they are somehow punished by the law? I don’t think so.

      • AmyLynn

        According to the law in the U.S., ministers are free to refuse to marry anyone they do not wish to marry. Period. The minister may receive flack from their hierarchy or congregation or the public at large but it’s not illegal.
        Ryan may be thinking of a case where a church in eastern KY that refused to allow a bi-racial couple to attend or participate in the service. The couple was engaged, I believe but for some reason I don’t think they were trying to get married in that church. (I don’t remember all the details, but I kind of remember that the woman was visiting her childhood church.) The negative publicity was significant and as I remember the church backed down in about a week.

  • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

    Your liberal posse and you have no problem with conscience objections for religious ceremonies.

    But your children, raised on the idea that this is a one-dimensional question of humanity vs. hate, will. That’s what I worry about.

    • carlosthedwarf

      Ok Kevin, I’ll bite. According to the Supreme Court in Loving vs. Virginia, civil marriage is a fundamental right. You believe (and please, correct me if I’m wrong), that I should not have equal access to that right–in other words, that I should not be granted equality under the law because of my sexual orientation. Why should I interpret that as love or respect or anything other than hate?

      • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

        Because in the dark corner of the Middle Ages in which I live, there is no such thing as gay marriage, or even sexual orientation. Everyone is allowed to marry and try to make babies, and if their spouse isn’t the kind of person for whom they feel the most erotic attraction, them’s the lumps.

        My roommate (a professed leftist, mind you) once wrote an article making more or less this point.

        The idea of “the gays,” i.e. as a class constituted by “sexual identity,” is a thoroughly modern one, and so I have trouble getting my benighted head around it. In the historically Christian perspective (forgive me for pontificating, but I am in fact correct in my reading of history on this point), homosexuals — as they are thought of today — simply don’t exist, and can serve neither as the object of collective hatred nor as the plaintiff in a dispute of civil rights.

        Were I so inclined I could defend this as a far queerer view of things than is commonly found today, but if they’re standing outside the churches with torches and pitchforks, such conceptual tergiversation will do me very little good.

        • carlosthedwarf

          So you believe that I labor under some sort of false consciousness? That my attractions to other men don’t actually exist, and that I made them up out of thin air?

          • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

            See, there’s the legerdemain at the heart of it all.

            Obviously the world have always known that homosexual desire and activity were possible, and that different people have different tastes. What is new is the understanding that gay desires are basically the same as the desires that lead to marriage — the same desire, just pointed in a different direction. (The history of the word “sodomy” is illustrative here.) And this understanding has a concrete and well-known history, beginning in the efforts of 19th century psychologists to develop a clinical taxonomy of abnormal sexuality.

            And it is this idea — of eros as a basically univocal power that manifests differently in different people — that creates the illusion of inequality in the issue of marriage.

          • anodognosic

            Here, I think, is where same-sex marriage opponents tend to stick to ideas rather than experience. I have gay friends. I’ve been with them through their relationship joys and sorrows. It’s perfectly evident to me that there is no substantive difference between my heterosexual eros and their homosexual eros–that what they want is what I want, what they need is what I need, and just as a union with a person of my sex would never make me whole, a union with a person of the opposite sex would never make them whole. The most sophisticated theoretical structure of eros and natural law will not change this plain and simple observation.

          • carlosthedwarf

            Kevin–
            I think we’ve hit the crux of the issue, here: “What is new is the understanding that gay desires are basically the same as the desires that lead to marriage — the same desire, just pointed in a different direction.”
            But that is precisely my experience, and the experience of millions of other gay people in this country and around the world. What you’re telling me is that you’re not going to listen in good faith to my lived experience–that the attractions I feel towards other men are no different from the attractions my straight friends and relatives feel towards women–and you’re not going to do so solely on the basis of your religious tradition. That is the very definition of closed-minded. Perhaps hate is too strong a word, but you’re certainly not coming to this argument from a place of respect for me. Thank you for answering my question.

        • anodognosic

          Certainly, the idea of sexual identity as we consider it today is relatively recent. That might mean that it’s a recent invention. But it might also mean that it’s something that’s only recently been acknowledged, and the way in which it has been acknowledged owes much to the current cultural zeitgeist. This article, http://www.theawl.com/2012/05/sex-and-punishment , suggests that the phenomenon is not exactly new.

          In any case, in modern liberal societies, “them’s the lumps” is not commonly considered a reasonable response to the complaints of a put-upon minority.

          • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

            i. Adelphopoesis was emphatically not gay marrage avant la lettre. This claim has been so thoroughly debunked that I can think of no explanation for its currency other than willful ignorance.

            ii. Modern liberal society sucks.

          • anodognosic

            “Modern liberal society sucks.”

            Unless you’re gay. Or black. Or poor. Or a woman. Or Jewish.

      • Cous

        Carlos, that quote has a more interesting context than you may realize. The decision on Loving v. Virginia says,

        Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival.

        They are quoting Skinner v. Oklahoma, which was about using forced sterilization as a punishment for crimes; the only reference made to marriage there is in conjunction with procreation:

        We are dealing here with legislation which involves one of the basic civil rights of man. Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race.

        This is not about hate, this is about the idea that the only reason the government has to be interested in marriage in the first place is because of it’s implications for society as the only type of personal union which produces new human beings. Would you prefer that the government get into the business of regulating and classifying friendships and all emotional commitments, like some nightmare version of Facebook friend lists or Google Plus circles? The government has piled lots of legal benefits on top of the starting definition of marriage, and I would certainly agree that same-sex couples should have access to certain legal benefits (e.g. visitation rights) that may currently only exist for opposite-sex couples, but I see no reason why those rights shouldn’t then also be extended to any grouping of adults (3 siblings, 10 friends, polyamorous couples (is there another word for that? “couple” implies 2)), and at that point you’re just talking about something totally separate from marriage.

        • carlosthedwarf

          If marriage is solely intended for procreation, why do we not make every person take a fertility test before they get married? For that matter, why do we allow childless couples–why don’t we pass a law that requires all married couples who don’t produce a child within five years to adopt one?

          • carlosthedwarf

            For that matter, why do we make it legal for unwed mothers to have children? Why don’t we pass a law that requires every woman to marry within six months of conceiving if she is not married at the time of conception?

          • Cous

            I never said that marriage is solely intended for procreation or child-rearing, or that actual procreation and child-rearing are necessary features of marriage, I said that procreation is the reason the government has any business being involved in marriage in the first place.

            The objections you raise about infertile couples or couples who choose not to have children are fairly common ones in the debate; some scholars offer a rather length to this and other common objections here it’s a lot of dense writing to parse, but if you want a comprehensive answer, you can't complain. To summarize the gory details, what matters is whether the couple can have vaginal intercourse, because that's the only type of sexual activity that can produce children. This is not a new idea; multiple countries have (or did have) laws that say a marriage can be voided if the marriage has not been consummated; non-vaginal sex, even if it was between two people of the opposite sex, did not count as consummation. To stave of misinterpretation, I'm not saying historical precedent is in itself a good reason why same-sex marriage should not be legalized, it's the understanding of sexual activity that it relies on that is relevant.

            This is certainly not a cut-and-dried argument; it's a huge and messy discussion that involves defining what relation a person has to their body, whether there's a taxonomy of sexual activity, what the role of government is, etc. I would love to have this discussion in person, but as it is I'm not going to pursue it any further since I don't have unlimited free time. I hope you understand that it is possible to oppose same sex marriage for legally and philosophically sound reasons without any motivation from homophobia or prejudice.

          • carlosthedwarf

            Cous, I agree with you, that it is technically possible to be against gay marriage and not be a bigot. But those arguments are almost never used in the national debate.

          • Cous

            Agreed, and I lament that fact. There are plenty of people opposing it for the wrong reasons.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

            Cous: Don’t dismiss historical precedent per se. Certainly, appealing historical precedent does put into perspective how radical a change “gay marriage” would really be. Before fidelity and monogamy, before love and inlaws, there was man and woman.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

            But those arguments are almost never used in the national debate.

            I would suggest that his “But the Parts Don’t Fit!” objection is used in the national debate frequently. It’s simply said with seemingly less justification because most folks are not trained to think about or articulate transcendentals they grasp as concepts. Also, the charge of bigot is often laid out at the first sign of anger, which very well might not be an anger of hatred but of frustration. However, calling someone a bigot would in fact plant a seed of anger (in hatred!) toward the name-callers.

            We must lament the poorer, “eat your contraception and have it, too” arguments also; perhaps there are fewer bigots than we’d think.

        • butterfly5906

          That might have been why the government started performing civil marriages, but procreation doesn’t seem to be a big factor in civil marriages today. Civil ceremonies almost never mention children or sex. The vows are all about love and commitment to each other. None of the legal marriage benefits or state recognition are predicating on having or even attempting to have children. In fact, today they aren’t based on whether the couple ever even had sex.
          Perhaps the answer should be to get the government out of marriage completely. However, as long as the state recognizes some life-long committed relationships, I see no reason why it shouldn’t recognize others because the couple has the “wrong” combination of reproductive organs.

      • Alex Godofsky

        “Why should I interpret that as love or respect or anything other than hate?”

        You are doing a shockingly poor job of reassuring him that you won’t force Catholic priests to preside over same-sex marriages.

        • carlosthedwarf

          How so? I believe whole-heartedly in his constitutional right to hate me. He gets to say all the bigoted bile he can spew. Similarly, I have the right to accuse him of being hateful. I’m a big believer in the First Amendment. But his right to say bigoted things doesn’t also allow him to treat me like a second class citizen. It’s not a matter of whether I get married in his church, it’s a matter of whether the state will recognize my marriage the same way it recognizes his.

  • Cous

    I agree with half of your analysis Leah, but my first reaction (upon reading the White House’s statement here is that they are being unbelievably hypocritical. Obama and crew don’t give a rat’s a** about religious liberty in the HHS debate, but now when it’s about same-sex unions, they’re wringing their hands over “a troublesome and potentially unconstitutional limitation on religious liberty.” This has nothing to do with your argument, I just can’t believe they’re being this two-faced.

    Anyway, I’m looking at the relevant sections (536 and 537) of H.R. 4310, which you can find here here and I share your concern that 537 would be a restriction on religious freedom. Side question – as it is, are military chaplains allowed to perform on military property every religious ceremony or activity they want? The armed forces might have valid reasons for prohibiting certain activities on bases. Not saying that marriage is one of those, but I’d be surprised if it’s a total free-for-all.

    But what part of 536 is alarming you with regard to spiritual counseling? The first part of 536 is a general statement about how the conscience/beliefs of everyone in the Armed Forces should be respected, then they define what a chaplain is, and they they state,

    “No member of the Armed Forces may (A) direct, order, or require a chaplain to perform any duty, rite, ritual, ceremony, service, or function that is contrary to the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the chaplain, or contrary to the moral principles and religious beliefs of the endorsing faith group of the chaplain; or (B) discriminate or take any adverse personnel action against a chaplain, including denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment, on the basis of the refusal by the chaplain to comply with a direction, order, or requirement prohibited by sub-paragraph (A).”

    .

    Yes, the language is vague, and does leave open the undesired possibility of chaplains abusing their religious freedom, but most conscience-protecting language is necessarily vague because you’re covering anything from medical procedures to sacraments to dietary choices. I’m not an expert on conscience protection in the Armed Forces, so I’m open to further arguments on why this section shouldn’t pass, but sitting in my civilian chair I don’t see anything objectionable about it.

    Finally, re. Mark Shea’s response, the concern is not that Catholic or other chaplains would be forced to sacramentally marry same-sex couples (which the Church would say is flat-out impossible), but that they might be forced to officiate over the legal version, which is still a violation of their conscience, for the same reason they cannot in good conscience officiate over a legal-but-not-sacramental marriage of two Catholics who are legally divorced but whose spouses are still living.

    • anodognosic

      The concern about the Catholic priest performing a legal same-sex union is fair enough. But there is a strain of thought on religious liberty under which the rights of religious exemptions have ballooned to untenable proportions. I would include the contraception mandate, which you clearly disagree with, as well as cases in which private and state employees would be allowed to refuse to perform duties that are necessary to their function, such as dispensing contraceptives or filling out same-sex marriage forms. It seems that both sides have legitimate concerns, which is a good argument for hammering out the specifics of conscience protections.

    • leahlibresco

      No, I don’t think the conscience legislation on the table goes farther than I’m ok with (insofar as it only touches on ceremonies). I brought up the counseling issue because I wanted to explain which conscience objections gave me pause.

      Re clergy being required to officiate civil marriages: I have no idea if clergy are currently required to sign off on marriages the state recognizes and their faith doesn’t. I don’t see any reason why they should be required to sign off on gay couples. They’re in a different position than the worker in the civil service who refuses to process same-sex marriage licenses.

  • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

    Here’s a question arising from my ignorance: is being a military chaplain a military office which is entirely separate and separable from the ordination/ministry of a religious group? Are there specifically military duties that a chaplain has which do not in any way derive from their position as a minister for a religion?

    On the other side of the question, is any religious minister permitted to minister to a member of the armed forces, or to minister on a military base? Or are only chaplains allowed to conduct religious ministry on a base?

    I guess I’m trying to parse out just where the lines may be between “religious minister” and “military chaplain”, and thus what is the jurisdiction of the military and the government or of the religious group who ordains/authorizes the minister.

  • TR

    Robert King, here’s what I’ve got. When I was in the Army (almost 4 years, and 1 year in the ‘stan), my chaplains told me they had two functions: to perform, and to provide. They performed religious services within their tradition, and they provided religious services outside their tradition. In other words, the Protestant chaplain in my unit performed his own services, and coordinated for the Roman Catholic chaplain to visit. He would have coordinated for a Muslim chaplain had there been a need.
    Bill on Mark Shea’s post pointed to AR 165-1, Army Chaplain Corps Activities, which says what I just said.

    The only specifically military duties of which I am aware would be counseling soldiers, counseling spouses, and working with local religious figures (Afghan mullahs).
    Chaplains cannot carry firearms; they are assigned a bodyguard/assistant.
    To become a chaplain, one must be ordained by a recognized denomination. If the denomination withdraws its sponsorship, the chaplain has to resign, or something (it’s a process to get out, so that would take some time).

    The bottom line is that I don’t see an issue. We don’t need this law to protect our chaplains’ freedom. And while I was happy DADT was repealed, I’m not really a gay rights guy (to be open about potential biases).

    Most of the discussion above, if you’ll pardon my saying so, was long on comparisons to civil rights, and short on any actual knowledge of chaplain duties or the military. On Mark Shea’s post, some posters worried that lapsed Catholics would demand a gay marriage ceremony and force Catholic chaplains out, or that flying in gay-friendly chaplains to isolated bases would bankrupt the military. These seem unsubstantiated, wildeyed speculations.

    Roman Catholic chaplains are in short supply. No way would we let some schmuck endanger our small number; and if the kid can’t get married in Catholic theology, then he can’t get married by a Catholic chaplain. End of discussion. The military is not a democracy.
    And as for flying in chaplains to tend to one guy, I doubt it. Military units have to pay for services – intra-military. The unit budget is not held hostage by Joe Schmuckatelli (as the ordinary joe is called in the Army).

    If enough soldiers lack their specific religious services – liberal and gay-tolerant, say – then we hire more of those chaplains. It takes a while to work the way up the chain of command. But it gets dealt with.

    • @b

      Thank-you, TR.

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

        Agreed.

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