Defense Bill Squabble Worries Some

By Lisa Keen

Leaders of the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services committees announced Dec. 9 that they have reached an agreement on the defense authorization bill for the coming year, including some provisions LGBT activists have opposed.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) proposal calls for authorizing the Defense Department to spend $625.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2014. Later, an appropriations bill will approve the specific amount of money to be turned over to the department for FY 14 spending. This year's NDAA has been bogged down in debates over efforts to address the growing number of sexual assaults against service members, particularly female service members.

But there were also some amendments offered that LGBT activists opposed. For instance, the House passed its version of NDAA with an amendment from Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) that would require DOD accommodate the religious beliefs, actions, and speech of service members. Some believed that amendment was intended to allow service members to express their hatred of gays. Fleming's amendment also required that DOD have no limit on such activities unless it could prove the activities would "actually harm" military order and discipline. President Obama promised to veto a bill with this language.

In a press release Monday, the House-Senate leadership said the new bill "requires the accommodation of individual expressions of moral and religious beliefs by service members unless such expressions of belief could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline."

Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy said HRC opposed adoption of the Fleming Amendment by the House Armed Services Committee. He said HRC also opposed an amendment in the Senate Armed Services Committee by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) before it was modified. The original Cruz amendment sought to provide service members with the "rights of conscience" to "express their religious faith" and to have the DOD Inspector General to investigate religious discrimination and "any undue influence" by outside groups in creating DOD policy regarding religious matters. It also called for a survey of military chaplains to determine whether Defense policies forced them to violate their conscience.

The NDAA proposal released Monday "requires the DOD IG to assess and report on compliance with regulations for the protection of rights of conscience of service members." It also "Requires the Secretary of Defense to conduct a survey of military chaplains to assess whether restrictions placed on prayers offered in public or non-religious settings have prevented the military chaplains from exercising the tenets of their faith as prescribed by their endorsing faith group or have had an adverse impact on their ability to minister to service members and their families."

On a positive note, the NDAA proposal finally removes from the Uniform Code of Military Justice a long-standing law prohibiting consensual sodomy. It also "Requires the Secretary of Defense to report on DOD personnel policies regarding members of the armed forces with human immunodeficiency virus or Hepatitis B and assess whether the policies reflect a medically accurate understanding of how these conditions are contracted, how they can be transmitted to others, and the risk of transmission."

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