WASHINGTON — Under pressure from more than five dozen House lawmakers, the Navy late Tuesday abruptly reversed its decision that would have allowed chaplains to perform same-sex unions if the Pentagon decides to recognize openly gay military service later this year.
In a one-sentence memo obtained by The Associated Press, Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, chief of Navy chaplains, said his earlier decision has been “suspended until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination.”
The Navy said its lawyers wanted to do a more thorough review of the legal decision that allowed Navy chaplains to receive training to perform civil unions on military bases, but only in states where same-sex unions are legal.
Military training to apply the new law allowing gays to serve openly began earlier this year and is expected to be completed by midsummer.
House members wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to object to the Navy’s initial ruling, saying the service was violating the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act by appearing to recognize and support same-sex marriages.
That law defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, and it also says states don’t have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states where they are legal.
“We find it unconscionable that the United States Navy, a federal entity sworn to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States, believes it is their place alone to train and direct service members to violate federal law,” said the lawmakers’ letter, which was signed by 63 House members.
The lawmakers asked Mabus to direct the Navy to defend the Constitution, adding that individuals should not be allowed to pick and choose the laws they will follow.
The Navy’s decision triggered an uproar, particularly since the Army and Air Force had not made similar decisions, and there was no overall Defense Department guidance issued on the same-sex union issue.
Navy officials had said Monday that they updated the training after questions came up about civil ceremonies for gay couples.
In earlier training guidelines issued by the Defense Department and the military services, same-sex ceremonies were not mentioned and therefore not explicitly prohibited.