The U.S. House approved on Thursday an amendment that aims to bar same-sex wedding ceremonies from taking place on military bases — although LGBT groups are denying the measure will have any legal impact.
The amendment, introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa,) was approved 247-166 as part of major $608 billion Pentagon budget legislation known as the fiscal year 2013 defense appropriations bill. The House on the same day approved the legislation as a whole by 247-167.
In a floor speech offering the amendment, King, who has reputation for being anti-gay, said the amendment was necessary because the Pentagon is allowing same-sex weddings to take place on military bases and chaplains to officiate over these ceremonies despite the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
“This same-sex marriage that has been taking place on our military bases, where otherwise legal around the world, contravenes the Defense of Marriage Act,” King said. “The Defense of Marriage Act means this, actually says specifically this: marriage means only a legal union between one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and the word spouse refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. Pretty simple statute being contravened by the directives of the President of the United States as exercised through the secretary of defense.”
The Pentagon issued guidance shortly after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal went into effect giving the OK to same-sex wedding ceremonies on military bases and allowing chaplains to participate in them if they so choose. The guidance states the military facilities should be used on a “sexual-orientation basis” and military chaplains may officiate over same-sex weddings, but aren’t required to do so if that’s contrary to their religious briefs.
Also on the House floor, King knocked Obama for coming out in favor of same-sex marriage, suggesting Obama’s new position is what makes him believe the administration can circumvent DOMA to allow same-sex weddings on military bases — even though Obama announced support for same-sex marriage more than a year after the Pentagon issued its guidance.
“The President has now stepped out and said that he supports same-sex marriage in the United States,” King said. “That is, apparently, the most recent evolution of his position. But an evolving position of the President of the United States cannot be allowed to contravene the will of the people of the United States, as expressed through the statutes of the United States and as signed by previous President Bill Clinton in September of 1996.”
Five Republicans voted against the amendment: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.). But 17 Democrats voted in favor of the measure: Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), Mark Critz (D-Pa.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Tim Holden (D-Pa.), Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), MIke McIntyre (D-N.C.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), Miss Ross (D-Ark.) and Health Shuler (D-N.C.).
Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), ranking Democrat on the House appropriations committee and House defense subcommittee, spoke out against the King amendment on the floor, saying he believes lawmakers should discuss DOMA, but in terms of the negative impact it has on gay service members.
“As the gentleman knows, the Defense of Marriage Act is already current law,” Dicks said. “Despite the successful repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ last year under DOMA, same-sex military spouses are not entitled to the same benefits as other married couples. This amendment only seeks to divide this House. He knows that current law already prohibits same-sex spouses from independently shopping at military commissaries, using base gyms, or benefiting from subsidized dental and health care.” LGBT advocacy expressed indignation over the passage of the amendment, but said the measure would have no impact because federal funds are already not used in violation of DOMA.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said King’s amendment would do “nothing new.”
“No funds can ever be spent in contravention of federal law,” Sarvis said. “With this amendment, the Congressman is wasting Congress’ time and energy by restating current law in an attempt to infringe upon the rights of chaplains to practice their own faith and relegate gay and lesbian service members to second-class status by restricting their use of military facilities.”
Sarvis added DOMA has no impact on whether same-sex weddings can take place on military bases or whether chaplains can officiate over them.
“If the congressman wants a debate about the inequalities thrust upon America’s gay and lesbian service members by DOMA, let’s have that debate,” Sarvis said. “But perhaps, he should first undertake a review of the law and come to the debate prepared.”
Prior to passage of the amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter dated July 19 to House members urging them to vote “no” on the measure, saying it’s “both unnecessary and redundant.” The letter is signed by Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, and Laura Murphy, director of the Washington legislative office.
“While there are multiple legal challenges to DOMA working their way through the federal courts, it is still the law of the land,” Thompson and Murphy write. “The Department of Defense, like all federal agencies, is bound to uphold the law. The King Amendment serves absolutely no purpose other than to score election year political points at the expense of gay and lesbian couples and their families.”
It’s the not the first time the House has reaffirmed DOMA since Republicans have taken control of the chamber. On the same day that Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, the House approved a measure by freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) stating no U.S. government funds should be used in violation of DOMA. Last year, the House approved another amendment from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) reaffirming DOMA as part of defense appropriations legislation.