By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Henry P. Roberson (retired)
The amicus curiae brief filed by the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL) in the Defense of Marriage (DOMA) case to be heard by the United States Supreme Court next month, begins with a distortion; contrary to its name, the organization is one of endorsers primarily, not chaplains. CARL argues that the plaintiff, Edith Wharton, wishes to invalidate the “laws affirming marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” In fact, what is being asked is not that this understanding of marriage be eliminated but that all marriages, besides a cultural norm that is now a minority view, be recognized by the Federal government and protected. In summary, CARL says that to protect this narrow view of some chaplains and some members of the military, the views of other faith traditions must be limited.
The Bible itself has several different forms of marriage in it; the great patriarchs of the Jewish faith –- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – could have several wives plus concubines and could frequent prostitutes. Characterizing “one man and one woman” as the sole biblical understanding of marriage is patently inaccurate.
Several relationships in the Jewish scriptures and the Christian bible are bisexual or gay in all but having the name applied to it. In the encounter of Jesus and the centurion with a sick servant, whom the centurion calls “dear” or “sweetie,” it is very likely an intimate relationship of a Roman soldier forbidden to legally marry.
What the brief calls “traditional” marriage is a cultural norm; other parts of that view –- remarriage outside of death and adultery – are in fact a daily experience of military and civilian life. If CARL wishes to truly support their “traditional belief,” then they should be talking about these aspects of their views as well.
With the repeal of DOMA, no one is going to be forced to do anything but respect other service members. The brief mentions the Army’s Strong Bonds program; I did many marriage renewals programs in my thirty years of military service. In reviewing my files on several of them, I find nothing in them that would not work in a program that included gay and lesbian couples. Would that be distasteful to some chaplains and some service members and their spouses? I knew several who were very unhappy that there were service members who were remarried –- sometimes multiple times – but the chaplains did their job.
Rarely was I approached by a soldier that I could not serve for personal or church reasons; when I was, I referred them to other chaplains. “Perform or Provide” is the chaplain motto; it has served us well and will serve us well in this matter as well.
In raising the issue of service members who are openly racist and their unsuitability for military service, CARL shows its true intent. What they really want is to allow chaplains and other service members to be offensive in their words and behavior. They know their sermons and their counseling is protected speech but that is not enough. This brief is nothing more than a request that their narrow views on marriage be enshrined. This strikes at the very foundation of military values: Respect.
My own Roman Catholic Church is an example of some of these difficulties. Were I still on active duty, I would not perform same-sex marriages because my church forbids it. I would help the couple and find a chaplain or minister who would conduct the wedding. My bishops share the same basic views as CARL on marriage survey after survey finds that Catholics have the highest percentage of support for same-gender marriage. I support the views of the American bishops on the HHS mandate of 2012 because that speaks to a government saying what is “church.” Catholic Charities, schools and hospitals are a vital part of our faith; these I will defend. I find trying to enshrine some beliefs that would affect individuals outside my faith into public law and policy as difficult.
My rights as an American have always been limited by the rights of others; freedom of speech does not include the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre or to slander or libel others. I do not know of any unlimited rights in our constitution. I am certain that the fourteenth amendment says those rights, which are equally limited for us all, are guaranteed to all — without exception. The arguments of CARL are a house built on sand.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Henry P. Roberson (retired) is a member of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, an organization started by retired chaplains to advocate for a pluralistic and professional chaplaincy. He served as a Catholic chaplain in the U.S. Army for 30 years.