Homosexuals Claim Discrimination over Military Marriage Retreat

As repeal of the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” was occurring “uneventfully,” critics of repeal repeatedly noted that the other shoe had yet to drop on certain points of controversy.

For example, how would the military handle the potential of homosexuals wanting to attend marriage seminars or retreats — when the chaplains who lead them may not affirm a homosexual lifestyle, and the troops who attend them may theologically disagree with homosexuality?

It would seem the shoe finally dropped — and homosexual advocates have claimed “discrimination.”

For its part, the Air Force appears to have been the first service to publish explicit guidance on how to handle such situations:

When you advertise a [Marriage Care] retreat, announce the chaplain who will be leading the event and the chaplain’s endorser.  If the chaplain is permitted to train same-gender couples in a MC event, then you may register all eligible married couples.  However, if the chaplain is not permitted to train same-gender couples in a MC event, be prepared to offer…a MC event at another base or at a later date to a same-gender married couple.

If a same-gender married couple will be attending a MC event, make this known to the other couples as they register.  If those couples choose not to register for this event, be prepared to offer them…a MC event at another base or at a later date.

As was discussed at the time, the Air Force has recognized that married couples may have religious reservations about participating in marriage enrichment with homosexuals, and the Air Force is admirably attempting to accommodate everyone.

The Army has promulgated a similar policy, which is slightly less direct — but the message may not have been understood:

A same-sex couple at Fort Irwin, Calif., says they have been denied participation in an Army marriage enrichment program because of their sexual orientation, even though they are legally married.

Shakera Leigh Halford said her wife, a soldier at the post, approached a chaplain at Fort Irwin about participating in a “Strong Bonds” retreat at the base but was told the couple is “ineligible” because of their sexual orientation.

The homosexual advocacy group American Military Partner Association framed the situation as one of the “rights of LGBT soldiers” versus “the chaplain endorsing agencies.”  Notwithstanding the AMPA’s error that “T” soldiers are still prohibited from military service, the AMPA appeared to forget the “rights of non-LGBT soldiers.”  The military and the chaplaincy are attempting to balance potentially conflicting issues among soldiers, not merely between homosexual soldiers and chaplains.

As it turns out, though, the accusations against the US Army were apparently based on incorrect information.  For example, the AMPA sensationally said [emphasis added]:

Today, a solider [sic] approached a chaplain at Fort Irwin about participating in a “Strong Bonds” marriage enrichment retreat at the base with her wife, AMPA member Shakera Leigh Halford…

According to Shakera, the service member was told they were “ineligible” because of their sexual orientation

It turns out the Army turned away no one — the soldier in question concluded on her own, based on information from her peers, that she would not be welcome at the event:

When they asked…about the couples retreat in mid-December the message was wait until the leader is replaced by a more accommodating chaplain in a few months.

“It came from a co-worker, but it was very clear, we were definitely not allowed to go because we are same-sex,” Halford said.

The AMPA wrongly attempted to blame the institution of the US Army — and chaplains, in particular — for an alleged affront they had nothing to do with.

Second, when the Army became aware that homosexuals wanted to participate in a marriage retreat, they began efforts to obtain a chaplain who could lead one — because the chaplain set to lead the planned event could not [emphasis added]:

Pamela Portland, an Army spokeswoman at Fort Irwin, said in a statement the post’s remote location and limited pool of chaplains “created a temporary situation where same-sex married couples could not currently be supported with internal assets, so the command and the chaplains acted immediately.”

NTC commander Brig. Gen. Ted Martin has directed his command chaplain to bring in a chaplain for a temporary duty assignment to lead the retreat. Martin met with three affected couples to offer reassurance the command was working to provide them the same access as same-sex couples, according to Portland.

Portland said same-sex couples could be accommodated at a separate retreat offered in San Diego in December and January.

Ironically, the AMPA appears to have also misread the statement above and claimed, again, that the Army was not being truthful:

The AMPA member…reports however, that no one from the base command structure or the chaplain’s office has contacted her…

The Fort Irwin statement said Gen Martin met with the other couples — who were presumably already signed up for the retreat — to let them know they would have “the same access as same-sex couples.”  That’s actually an admirable act on Fort Irwin’s part, as the focus seems to be on the same-sex couple, which could lead the different-sex couples to feel they’re being dismissed or ignored.  The AMPA seemed to assume only they would need to be “reassured,” and must have missed the words “same-sex” in the statement.

The AMPA may have made another factual error as well.  While not all military events are public, there wasn’t a “Strong Bonds” event scheduled for Fort Irwin in December.  There was a “Relationship Solution Training seminar” — which is a chapel-sponsored event — on December 6-7.  It appeared to be a religious event led by Steve Arterburn, whose ministry makes its beliefs on marriage fairly clear — while Arterburn’s take is somewhat more complicated.

The distinction is not academic.  If it was not a Strong Bonds event and was instead a locally-produced seminar by the military congregation at Fort Irwin, then the Army’s staff memo didn’t apply any more than it would for any other religious service.

Fort Irwin’s thoughts about having another event for homosexual couples seem to be a reasonable attempt at accommodation of both the religious views of the majority of its troops and the desires of those who disagree with those views.

The Army and Air Force policies appear to be admirable attempts at meeting the needs of all — allowing all personnel to obtain support without compromise of the values of either chaplains or troops whose religious or moral values would not allow them to participate in a homosexual-affirming event.

It is disappointing the AMPA, in an apparent attempt to manufacture an “event” out of a “non-event,” could not even communicate the facts accurately — or perhaps truthfully.