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Facing a firestorm, Navy reverses course on performing same-sex marriages

The chief of Navy chaplains had said same-sex marriages could be performed in military chapels as soon as 'don't ask, don't tell' ends. But a sharply critical response has put that on hold.

By Staff writer / May 11, 2011

United States Marines attend a training session to familiarize them with the military's new position regarding gay and lesbian service members and the repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Lenny Ignelzi/AP

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Mix military service, religious practice, and gay marriage and you’re sure to come up with a combustible political situation.

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The US Navy has just found this out with its on-again, off-again attempt to allow chaplains to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies on naval and Marine Corps bases.

In a memo last month, the chief of Navy chaplains, Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, said that same-sex marriages would be permitted at chapels in states where gay marriages are recognized, although not until the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gay members serving openly had officially ended.

But when Tidd’s memo – sent as part of the Navy’s training in preparation for the expected end of don’t ask, don’t tell later this year – became known, members of Congress and conservative organizations reacted with swift and sharp ire.

Tidd quickly backtracked, issuing a second memo saying that his earlier decision had been "suspended until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination." As critics pointed out, neither the US Army nor the US Air Force had made similar decisions, nor had there been any overall Defense Department guidance on same-sex marriage or civil unions.

The Navy’s chief chaplain had gotten way out in front of elected officials and much of US society – not to mention the US military establishment. Traditional marriage had won, at least for now.

“In this case, a senior officer issued something that is contrary to common sense, sound policy and the assurances given to Congress,” Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness, told The Washington Post.

In essence, two iconic and controversial laws with profound social implications – the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman – had clashed, and the reaction was not surprising.

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