Many of us remember the salacious 1993 video produced and circulated by the right wing to the Pentagon and Congressional leaders during the debate about lifting the ban on LGBT military service. The video, titled The Homosexual Agenda, was filled with outrageous scenes from pride parades and was calculated to stereotype gays and lesbians as licentious exhibitionists who were out of control and whose presence in the military would destroy good order, morale and discipline. Their scandalous tactic worked. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were asked during a subsequent hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee whether homosexuality was incompatible with military service? To a man they said yes. Not surprisingly, every one of these generals and admirals had received his own personal copy of The Homosexual Agenda.
Fast-forward 20 years. The compromise law known as "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) has now been repealed, and the integration of LGB service members into the military has been flawless. Fourteen states (15 with the anticipated addition of Illinois) and the District of Columbia now allow and celebrate same-gender weddings, and marriage equality is becoming the law of the land. Many faith groups have stepped forward with courage and conviction to embrace their LGBT brothers and sisters.
A "gay agenda" really does exist, unwritten and perhaps invisible, but in practice right before our very eyes. As the march for equality has gained momentum, a common agenda has evolved of its own accord. This radical agenda is to simply recognize LGBT relationships through the institutions that are most respected in our society: marriage, military and ministry. The three big Ms.
Our opponents understand the need to "protect" these institutions. They have lost their battle to keep LGBT patriots from serving the country they love. One thing we should understand is that they will never give up and are not only very smart but powerful and extremely well funded. They have adjusted their strategy, and instead of making a frontal assault on LGBT equality, they are now cloaking their opposition in terms of "religious liberty." After all, who could be against the most fundamental of our First Amendment rights guaranteed by the Constitution?
The most obvious example of this new strategy is the attempt to reinstate their preexisting privilege of being able to denigrate LGB service members. Before the repeal of DADT, anyone wearing our country's uniform could make negative comments about their fellow LGB service members and their families without fear of adverse repercussions from their commanders. The so-called "conscience protection" provision being proposed for the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act is a back-door attempt to reinstate this privilege. The House version now requires a commander, before taking any corrective or disciplinary action, to be able to prove that an anti-gay statement by a subordinate caused "actual harm" to unit cohesion. This proposed legislation is clearly an attempt to use "religious liberty" as a disguise for anti-LGB bias and discrimination.
The military chaplaincy is where the three Ms converge as the tip of the spear in the battles for LGBT equality that lie ahead. Many in the LGBT community have not connected the dots. They are not following what is happening in the military chaplaincy and therefore cannot see how recent actions by our opponents are signaling their next moves in society at large.
The recent finding by the Supreme Court that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional has left religious conservatives reeling. The first place they have reacted is in the military chaplaincy. Southern Baptists (SBC), who make up almost half of military chaplains, as well as Roman Catholics and other very conservative chaplain endorsers, have issued "guidelines" to their chaplains about how to discriminate against LGB troops and their families. Besides forbidding their chaplains to conduct marriage rites, something that was never proposed by anyone, SBC directives mandate that chaplains not be allowed to provide affirming counseling to LGB troops or their families. They cannot be part of command-sponsored family support activities, such as the Army Strong Bonds Program, if even one LGB couple is present. Finally, in what is most offensive, they cannot participate in worship services or other chapel events that include a chaplain, chaplain assistant, volunteer or contractor who is LGBT-affirming. Chaplains who violate these "guidelines" would be subject to withdrawal of their denominational endorsement. Loss of endorsement is tantamount to loss of their commission as officers, a career-ending action.
Again, these guidelines are cloaked in terms of "religious liberty." All these conservative faith groups believe that biblical marriage can only be between one man and one woman. They also believe that any sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage are sinful. While they have every right to hold these beliefs, conservative military chaplains, just like their progressive colleagues, have agreed to "perform or provide" for all service members and their families and work within a pluralistic military. Nevertheless, in spite of this pledge, their leader-endorsers are attempting to advance their own religious agenda. They do so based upon the misguided conclusion that the First Amendment right of religious liberty is absolute and trumps the rights of all service members to be treated fairly, without bias or discrimination. Furthermore, military ethics follows the precepts of the Golden Rule, requiring all service members to show dignity and respect toward each other. Because these conservative chaplains and the service members who share their beliefs are presently restricted from expressing their deeply held anti-gay beliefs, their civilian supporters are claiming that Christians in the military are being persecuted.
Some in our community may say, "Who cares?" The answer is simple. If our opponents are able to get away with clearly unconstitutional actions within the military, by claiming that their "religious liberty" is being abridged, what will stop them from doing the same thing in the broader society?
The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy is committed to securing the religious liberty of every service member. This means freedom of religion and from religion. Like the biblical battle of David and Goliath, the Forum is fighting against the likes of conservative organizations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and the oxymoronically named Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty.
The LGBT community must recognize that most of the battles that lie ahead in the fight for equality will be waged over the issue of "religious liberty." It is time for every fair-minded American to recognize the all-out assault on their fellow LGBT citizens, particularly those serving in uniform. This unconscionable attack is being mounted against all who do not share the religious beliefs of these conservative religious organizations and their supporters on the Hill. Now is the time to close ranks and take action!