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Gay Military Personnel To Join NOH8 Campaign For Marriage Equality

First Posted: 10/14/2011 8:30 am EDT   Updated: 12/14/2011 4:12 am EST

LAS VEGAS -- As gay and lesbian service members celebrate the end of the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy at their first ever professional conference here this weekend, some plan to strike a pose for marriage rights that still are beyond their reach.

The NOH8 Campaign will be on hand Friday at the OutServe Armed Forces Leadership Summit to shoot portraits of participants who want to join the movement to overturn Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. The photographic silent protest features subjects with duct tape over their mouths to symbolize that their voice has been silenced by the ballot measure.

More than 13,000 people have joined the protest, from regular people who live in California and across the country to politicians, law enforcement officers, artists and celebrities. Cindy McCain and her daughter Meghan are among the high-profile people featured in the campaign, even though her husband (and Meghan's father) Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) opposes same-sex marriage and led the opposition to repealing DADT in the Senate.

Several former service members who were discharged under DADT also have posed for NOH8, including Army Lt. Dan Choi,. Other former military members, like retired Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, have also been shot.

But this may mark the first time active-duty service members are stepping before the cameras to support this cause -- perhaps raising questions about how far military personnel are allowed to go when it comes to politics.

Under a Defense Department directive governing political activity by members of the armed forces, full-time, active-duty personnel are forbidden from endorsing "a partisan political party, candidate, or cause." They also may not "participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause."

Though polls show that more Democrats than Republicans support marriage equality, NOH8 sees the issue as a non-partisan one -- as do Laura Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and a growing number of Republicans -- meaning that participation in the campaign shouldn't run afoul of that particular provision.

DOD regulations also state that military personnel may participate "in local nonpartisan political campaigns, initiatives, or referendums" as long as they don't wear a uniform or use government facilities while doing so. They must not "engage in conduct that in any way may reasonably imply that the Military Department concerned or any component of such Department has taken an official position on, or is otherwise involved in, the local political campaign or issue."

The Pentagon decided in 2004 that those rules had been violated when Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin said in a speech that Islamist extremists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation" and added that "the enemy is a guy named Satan." Boykin made his unauthorized remarks while wearing his Army uniform.

"Where people have gotten in trouble is where they do things in uniform," said Eugene Fidell, former president of the National Institute of Military Justice who now teaches at Yale Law School. He said the OutServe participants could pose for the advocacy campaign as long as they wear civilian clothes.

"It's our understanding that participation in these photos is voluntary and that uniforms will not be worn," said Zeke Stokes of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, one of the convention's sponsors. "As such, [it] should not conflict with regulations."

The end of DADT doesn't mean parity for gay and lesbian military personnel. While same-sex marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia, the Pentagon will continue to abide by the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. That means married gay and lesbian troops will be denied the benefits and protections given to their straight counterparts while serving, even if a military chaplain performs their marriage ceremony.

Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated that Eugene Fidell was the current president of the National Institute of Military Justice, but he is the former head of the group and now teaches at Yale Law School. It also stated that retired Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach was discharged under DADT, but he was not.

Famous faces who have posed for photographer Adam Bouska's NOH8 Campaign:

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