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House includes anti-gay provisions in defense bill

The U.S. House, by a vote of 299-120, passed on May 18 a National Defense Authorization Act that includes anti-gay provisions said to undermine the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

The provisions were added to the $642 billion spending plan for the Defense Department in committee last week.

One provision would allow military chaplains to refuse to minister to people whom they disapprove. SLDN says the amendment is a threat to military readiness and unit cohesion, allowing for servicemembers to harass one another and allowing chaplains to discriminate based on religion, gender, sexual orientation or race by arguing that ministering to them would be contrary to their “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs.”

“At SLDN, we are disappointed that this language is a part of the House defense bill,” said SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis. “The fact of the matter is, there are already in place adequate protections for chaplains and servicemembers in this area. This language weakens implementation of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal, which Americans support and which our nation’s military leaders have said is being implementing smoothly.

A second provision makes Department of Defense facilities off-limits to gay and lesbian servicemembers who want to hold a same-sex commitment or wedding ceremony.

The House approved the amendment despite an objection from the Pentagon.

“This is yet another attempt by a few opponents of military equality who are looking to turn the clock back on progress and relegate gay and lesbian service members to second-class status,” said Sarvis.

The Senate Armed Forces Committee begins marking up its version of the defense bill next week.

Later, after the Senate’s passage, lawmakers will need to work out differences between the two bills.

The House version of the defense bill also goes against the Defense Department on other issues. The bill incudes a missile defense site on the East Coast that the DOD doesn’t want, restricts the president’s ability to reduce the nuclear arsenal in compliance with a 2010 treaty, rejects a Pentagon request for domestic base closures and preserves ships and aircraft that the Pentagon wants to retire.

The House bill also breaks the deficit-cutting agreement the president and Republican lawmakers reached last year.

– Lisa Neff

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