Senate Backs Proposal to Let Military Chaplains Decline Performing Same-Sex Marriages

Military chaplains could decline to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies under a measure approved this week by the Senate.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., was added Wednesday to the massive, must-pass defense spending bill. The Senate approved the spending bill Thursday night by a vote of 93-7.

The chaplain proposal comes after the Pentagon in September authorized chaplains to perform the ceremonies -- as long as it's allowed by state law -- as the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays from serving openly in the military took effect.

Wicker said the proposal would allow chaplains to "maintain the freedom of conscience necessary to serve both their nation and their religion without conflict."

"Protections for military chaplains should be guaranteed in any policy changes being implemented," Wicker said in a statement.

But Wicker's proposal still has to be reconciled with a competing proposal on military chaplains in the House-passed bill.

That proposal, sponsored by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., was aimed at prohibiting chaplains from performing the ceremonies on bases no matter what the state laws say. Huelskamp's amendment presumably would achieve that by blocking funding for chaplain training.

At the time, the Navy had recently issued, then rescinded, a decision allowing chaplains to perform same-sex marriages.

Gay advocacy groups have lambasted the Huelskamp amendment for trying to slow down the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal implementation.

But once the repeal took effect, the Pentagon issued a broader decision anyway allowing the ceremonies on and off base in states where it's legal.

Huelskamp offered a qualified endorsement of Wicker's latest military chaplain proposal in a statement to

"I am comfortable with it even though the Obama administration will say it is not necessary. But, I would like to see stronger protections of chaplains' freedoms to preach and counsel as they see fit," he said Thursday.

Both chambers would have to agree to the same policy in order for the entire defense bill to pass Congress.

While Wicker's proposal comes in the context of the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, the amendment itself would allow military chaplains to decline to perform any marriage "as a matter of conscience or moral principle."