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Senators vie to keep same-sex marriage ceremonies off military bases

Two U.S.
Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali, left, and Will Behrens are married at the McGuire-Lakehurst-Dix Joint Base in New Jersey on June 23.
Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali, left, and Will Behrens are married at the McGuire-Lakehurst-Dix Joint Base in New Jersey on June 23.

Two U.S. Senators have introduced legislation to ban same-sex marriage ceremonies from occurring on military bases, following approval of a similar measure by the House of Representatives.

Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., co-authored the legislation presented Tuesday that would prevent marriage or “marriage-like ceremonies” of same-sex couples at military facilities. It would also allow military chaplains to opt out of performing such a union if they object for “reasons of conscience,” Inhofe’s office said in a statement.

Some same-sex civil unions have taken place at military facilities — including in Louisiana and New Jersey — since the military in September 2011 repealed its “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” ending the ban on openly gay and lesbian service members.

“President Obama and his administration are dismissing their responsibility to uphold the law of the land by unilaterally deeming DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage) unworthy of enforcement,” Inhofe said.

The Department of Defense doesn't comment on proposed legislation, spokeswoman Eileen M. Lainez told NBC News, but she sent guidance distributed last year that allows for a military chaplain to decide whether or not to participate in a private ceremony — whether on or off a military site — “provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law.” The chaplain’s participation and use of military facilities for such functions does not constitute department endorsement.

Six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage, while 31 states have constitutional amendments that effectively ban it. Plaintiffs in several lawsuits challenging DOMA have asked the Supreme Court to hear their case in the high court’s next session.

Sue Fulton, communications director at OutServe, an association of actively-serving LGBT military personnel with more than 4,500 members, said the proposed legislation violated service members' exercise of religious freedom and noted that a chaplain would never be forced to conduct a ceremony he disagreed with.

“This is something that is most often a private religious ceremony between two people — at least one of them who is serving — and their friends and family and their chaplain,” she told NBC News. “And, for a Congress member to get in the middle of that when they’re just trying to have their life and exercise their own religious freedom, is despicable.”

The House of Representatives in late July approved an amendment to the 2013 defense spending bill that would prohibit money being spent by the military to violate DOMA. Similar versions of it had previously passed the House, according to The Hill.

"The military is an entity of the federal government, and federal law states that marriage is between a man and a woman," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who proposed the amendment, said on his website. "Despite this, the Obama administration has allowed same sex marriages to occur on military bases. These marriages violate ... DOMA. My amendment prohibits the use of both military funds and facilities for same-sex marriages.”

A study released on Monday found the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” had not had a negative impact on force readiness, recruitment or retention, contrary to predictions that it would. The research was conducted by the Palm Center, which researches sexual minorities in the military.

Implementation of the repeal was "proceeding smoothly" across the Department of Defense, said Lainez.

Since “don’t ask, don’t tell” ended, the Defense Department has held a gay pride event and allowed service members to march in pride parades in uniform, according to reports.

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