Dear Mr. Sylvester:
Thank you for contacting me regarding religious freedom in the military. I appreciate having the benefit of your comments on this matter.
I share your concern and belief that military chaplains—and all servicemembers—should be permitted to practice as their faith prescribes. As a strong supporter of personal freedoms, I believe the government must not restrict the free exercise of religion, and I support congressional action protecting religious freedom.
Furthermore, as you may know, in connection with the Department of Defense’s (DoD) repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on September 20, 2011, the DoD issued guidance indicating that military chaplains will not be prohibited from presiding over same-sex marriages held on or off military installations, provided that they are not official DoD events and are not held in violation of state and local laws. The DoD further provided that military chaplains will not be required to officiate at ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs.
In 1996, Congress overwhelmingly passed—and former President Bill Clinton signed into law—the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This federal law defines marriage as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” I firmly support this position and I believe that both President Obama and his Administration have an obligation to defend and uphold this federal law, regardless of their personal ideology.
To this end, I am pleased that the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY 2012 NDAA; P.L. 112—81), as signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 31, 2011, contains a provision stating that military chaplains cannot be required to perform marriage ceremonies that violate personally held beliefs and moral principles. At the same time, I am disappointed that additional language was stripped from the final version of the FY 2012 NDAA that would have reaffirmed that, in determining the meaning of any act of Congress or DoD action, the word “marriage” refers only to a legal union between one man and one woman, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. This language would have prohibited the use of DoD property for marriage ceremonies that do not comply with DOMA, and would have prevented military chaplains acting in their official capacity from officiating at marriage ceremonies that do not comply with DOMA.
I recognize that our military, like our nation, is comprised of people representing all faiths. However, that fact does not preclude servicemembers from practicing as their faith prescribes. You may be certain that, as a member of the Senate, I will continue to advocate policies and legislation that strengthen our national defense and support our military personnel, their families, and all who faithfully serve our nation.
I appreciate having the opportunity to represent the interests of Texans in the United States Senate. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.
United States Senator