Center for American Progress

Congress Should Pass a Clean Defense Authorization Bill
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Congress Should Pass a Clean Defense Authorization Bill

Congress should pass a clean defense authorization bill, focusing on military issues, to ensure that our troops and their families get the support they need.

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Last week, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced he would rather see Congress fail to pass a defense authorization bill than pass one that allows military chaplains to perform marriages for same-sex couples. Prioritizing a social agenda over the needs of our troops is the height of irresponsibility. Congress should pass a clean defense authorization bill, focusing on military issues, to ensure that our troops and their families get the support they need.

For 48 consecutive years, Congress has passed a National Defense Authorization Act to outline the budget for the Department of Defense. The NDAA is a critical piece of legislation in supporting the war effort and our men and women in uniform. The fiscal year 2012 NDAA, for example, authorizes funding for everything from troop pay to equipment like MRAPs, mine resistant vehicles designed to prevent casualties from roadside bombs. But this year, the House version of the bill also contains a discriminatory marriage ban targeting gay and lesbian service members, even after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Under current DoD policy, military chaplains have the freedom—but are not required—to perform marriages for same-sex couples where they are legal under state law and in accordance with their religious beliefs. In May, however, the House passed its version of the 2012 NDAA, which included an amendment barring military chaplains from performing marriages that do not comply with the definition of marriage in the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Because DOMA defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, the House NDAA, if enacted, would prohibit military chaplains from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies. The amendment would also ban marriages involving same-sex couples on Defense Department property.

The Senate version of the NDAA, which has passed the Senate Armed Services Committee but awaits a vote by the full Senate, does not include the marriage ban, setting up a clash between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate.

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