An Air Force Academy cadet who graduates in May is in love with an Air Force pilot. The couple wants to get married at the academy's Cadet Chapel, but they can't.
Standing in the way of the two women exchanging vows in the iconic spired chapel is a Department of Defense policy that doesn't allow same-sex marriages at bases in states that don't recognize such unions.
In Colorado, same-sex marriages are prohibited by law. The only states that issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia. A pending court case will decide whether California does or doesn't allow gay marriage.
However, there might be a loophole that will allow the women, and other homosexual service members, to proclaim their commitment within military chapels in Colorado and other states that don't sanction same-sex marriages.
That loophole is created by how the Pentagon worded the new policy, which allows gay couples to conduct "religious and other ceremonies" at Defense Department facilities. One interpretation translates that phrase as allowing gays and lesbians to conduct "commitment" rites, or other events such as baptisms of their children.
The two women don't want to talk publicly, because they still fear revealing their sexual orientation would sabotage their careers. They told their story to Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who says they're waiting to see how the new policy unfolds.
A memo issued Sept. 21 by the Pentagon's general counsel states that use of Defense Department "property and facilities for private functions, including religious and other ceremonies, should be made on a sexual-orientation neutral basis, provided such use is not prohibited by applicable state and local laws."
Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez says decisions about whether state laws apply to any given base are made at the installation level.
The academy, and other local military bases, have decided that same-sex marriages won't be allowed.
"The basic answer is same-sex marriages aren't recognized by the state of Colorado, so we can't perform them in either one of our chapels," says AFA communications director Dave Cannon.
Fort Carson and the academy report that no requests for same-sex ceremonies have been received; Peterson Air Force Base didn't answer a question asking whether any ceremonies had been requested or scheduled.
(Use of military chapels is restricted to those with military service or connections with service members.)
But the Pentagon citation of "other ceremonies" shows an intent to make chapels available for gay couples, says Edie Disler.
Disler, of Austin, Texas, spent 25 years in the Air Force and in the closet. She also taught 10 years at the academy. Now retired from the service, she no longer hides her sexuality and cheers the Defense Department for abolishing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, though she feels it was tardy in doing so. She says other federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA and Department of State, have allowed employees to be open about their sexuality for years.
"For the Department of Defense to say we're going to approve ceremonies and they should be free of bias — one sexuality or another — that's a big step," she says. "This might be the Defense Department trying to catch up. I think there are plenty of progressive people in the Department of Defense that get that we were behind on that issue."
Now a member of MRFF's board, Disler says she believes the directive's wording was carefully chosen to be "all inclusive ... for a reason."
"So if they want to have their ceremonies at a chapel, and do the legality of it somewhere else, a ceremony is a ceremony," she says, "and the legal paperwork is the legal paperwork."
"The chapel is a special location for Air Force Academy graduates," adds Disler, "and if they want some kind of ceremony [there] ... I think they should be allowed to."
Out of bounds?
Another Pentagon directive, issued Sept. 30, says military chaplains "may participate or officiate any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law." But the directive doesn't require chaplains to perform rites that conflict with their religious or personal beliefs.
Giving chaplains the option might stem from concerns raised last spring by retired chaplains who argued that chaplains might be faced with a moral choice between obeying God or people.
No choice necessary, Disler says. "I think a lot of chaplains will say, 'Don't want to do it, can't do it, won't do it,' and that's fine," she says. "There are lots of gay-friendly denominations."
There also are a fair number who oppose gay marriage and gay unions, including Springs-based Focus on the Family. Asked to comment on the apparent inclusive language of the Pentagon directives, Ashley Horne, with CitizenLink, Focus' family advocacy arm, says in a statement, "The DoD directive is yet another in a string of actions taken by this Administration to get around the longstanding Defense of Marriage Act."
Concerned Women for America also voiced opposition to militarytimes.com, saying the Pentagon had "overstepped its bounds."
If and how opposition will play out isn't clear, but the academy isn't anticipating a need to run interference from protesters, such as the homophobe radical Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church — "God hates fags."
Such groups, Cannon says, will be stopped at the gates, while just about anyone with a government ID can go on base, including to the chapel.
Cannon adds: "We would not provide any more security to a commitment ceremony than we do for a wedding service."
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