Air Force Fires Col Leland Bohannon for Not Affirming Homosexual Marriage
The US Air Force has fired a high ranking commander and denied him a promotion to General because he declined to personally affirm a homosexual relationship.
Col Leland B.H. Bohannon is still currently listed as the commander of the Air Force Inspection Agency, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico [Update: No longer. Now the AFIA commander is listed as Col Mark Pye, backdated to July 2017]. As detailed in a report filed by his lawyers, last May one of Col Bohannon’s subordinates retired. One of the customary presentations at a retirement is a spouse appreciation certificate, given to the spouse of the retiring member. In this case, Col Bohannon’s subordinate was a homosexual.
Col Bohannon felt that he could not sign the certificate because it would affirm a relationship that was contrary to his religious beliefs. Instead, Col Bohannon consulted both his chaplain and his JAG and then took two actions: First, he requested a religious accommodation — which was returned six weeks later without, oddly, being either approved or denied. Second, Col Bohannon coordinated to have MajGen Sami Said, the Air Force Deputy IG, sign the certificate in his stead. Gen Said’s signature would presumably have made the situation moot.
But, according to Col Bohannon’s appeal [emphasis added]
Upon learning that Col Bohannon did not personally sign the spouse certificate due to his sincerely held religious beliefs, the [retiring] MSgt filed a formal Equal Opportunity complaint.
The EO office substantiated an allegation of “unlawful discrimination” and claimed, illogically, that even if Col Bohannon had received a religious accommodation he would still have unlawfully discriminated (a conclusion that belies the very definition of “religious accommodation”). In response, LtGen Anthony Rock — the same person to whom Col Bohannon had made the unanswered accommodation request, and MajGen Sami Said’s direct supervisor — removed Col Bohannon from command and told the promotion board not to promote Col Bohannon to Brigadier General.
If a homosexual Airman wanted to pick an ideological fight, he could hardly have chosen a poorer battle. If diversity, tolerance, and religious liberty are truly protected as essential freedoms in the US Air Force (as its public affairs officers frequently claim), this should be a quick mea culpa and reversal on the part of the Air Force.
First, it could hardly be clearer that an unofficial, optional certificate that lauds a “spouse” in a homosexual relationship would put the signatory in the position of personally affirming that relationship and its “value” to the retiring service member. That’s the entire point of the certificate, after all.
Second, Col Bohannon did not mistreat the Airman’s “spouse.” In fact, he arguably did them one better by having a much higher ranking officer sign the certificate. Within the limited information available, there is no indication Col Bohannon tried to inhibit, impede, or prevent the recognition of the Airman’s significant other. In fact, if the record is correct, Col Bohannon went out of his way to have the certificate signed. The only thing he declined to do was to be the individual who personally signed the certificate — and there is no law, regulation, or policy requiring Col Bohannon to sign that certificate.
Finally, it is worth noting Col Bohannon’s record to that date was above exemplary — as noted even by one of his previous commanders, now-BGen Kristin Goodwin — whose elevation to Commandant of the US Air Force Academy was noted by some due to her homosexuality. Then-Col Goodwin was the 2nd Bomb Wing Commander — and Col Bohannon was her Vice Wing Commander — her immediate subordinate. It would seem if Col Bohannon was really apt to discriminate against homosexuals, his then-direct supervisor, a homosexual herself, would have had something to say about it — and wouldn’t have rated him as the number one O-6 in her command. Instead, Col Goodwin said
“I can’t say enough about Bo,” said Col. Kristin Goodwin, 2nd BW commander. “I see him as a leader, a father and a husband, going out every single day and trying to make a difference in the world. Not only does he make that difference, he does it with grace, style and even temperament. It’s really been an honor having him here, and I think we’ve all benefitted from his presence…”
“He has such a compassionate heart and has touched so many lives,” Goodwin said. “I know he’s made me a better leader, and I believe he’ll continue to do so even after he leaves. Bo, we thank you.”
That hardly sounds like someone who unlawfully discriminates against homosexuals.
The Department of Defense explicitly — and repeatedly — said no one would have to change their views on homosexuality nor violate their religious beliefs merely because homosexuals were allowed to serve. Rather, everyone — on both sides of the aisle — would continue to demonstrate the respect expected of service members.
Yet, should this action stand, some may perceive the Air Force to have said, in essence, that every commanding officer must be willing to proactively affirm homosexual marriage. Not just tolerate, and not just ensure equality within policies and procedures, but personally affirm. In so doing, the Air Force may open itself to the accusation it has created a “religious test” for service as a commander in an Air Force unit.
If your religion will not allow you to affirm homosexuality, you are not allowed to be a commander.
To be sure, this isn’t a new issue — homosexuals have served openly for six years and side issues regarding commanders and homosexuals have come up before, though at much lower levels and with little fanfare. But, as Col Bohannon’s situation makes clear, the military has never explicitly stipulated the policies under which such a conflict would be handled — except to generally say it wouldn’t be an issue.
In fact, not long after repeal, at least one Air Force commander breathed a sigh of relief that he managed to end his tour without having to deal with a similar issue — and even he foresaw the potential troubles should such a conflict occur. It was only a matter of time.
What happened here was the confluence of a “motivated” homosexual Airman, a principled religious commander — both of whom apparently felt strongly enough to act on their beliefs — and a ceremony that required them to interact in a way that put those beliefs in conflict. Presumably, a similar situation has not occurred before because of the relatively unique demographic circumstance.
What should happen is obvious: An Air Force commander made a concerted effort to ensure a subordinate’s retirement was conducted in accordance with his wishes and Air Force policy, without violating his own sincerely held beliefs. The commander was successful in that effort. Adverse action against him was unwarranted and should be reversed. (However, the First Liberty Institute letter appears to reference a prior appeal and a “decision” by BGen Paul Tibbets, so it seems an initial review has already denied such a reversal.)
What will happen is yet to be determined, and is unlikely to be so obvious: After all, the US military says it values religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity. But increasingly in society, sexuality trumps not just religion, but liberty in general.
Can a military commander be fired because he doesn’t proactively affirm the value of a homosexual relationship?
For now, it seems the US Air Force says yes.