Adding a Conscience Clause to Our Virtual Time Capsule

Numerous blogs and news outlets are reporting the passage of the Defense Authorization Act with its “conscience clause” intact. The Act, which basically helps to keep the military running, includes within it Section 533; a conscience clause provision that is widely believed to give free rein to those who would potentially discriminate or harass lesbian and gay servicemembers.

Under the language, the U.S. military would have to “accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of the members of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality” and may not use these beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action or discrimination. Additionally, it would prohibit the U.S. military from taking action against military chaplains who decline to serve a particular service member based on religious beliefs.

This language has been understood to mean service members could actively harass their fellow comrades for their perceived or actual sexual orientation without fear of reprisal. Additionally, it has been understood to mean that chaplains would have free rein to discriminate against service members on any basis — including religion, gender, sexual orientation, race or any other characteristic — simply by saying serving them is contrary to their beliefs. — ‘ALERT: Defense budget may include anti-gay provision;’ The Washington Blade; December 14, 2012

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called the inclusion of the language a “manufactured crisis” addressing a “phantom problem” since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) is now in the “dustbin of history.”

I believe that this “conscience clause” will also wind up pretty dusty itself. While many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are rightly concerned that this clause could be abused to harass our gay and lesbian servicesmembers, I predict that it will be little used at all or will wind up with some unseen surprises, similar to the Louisiana School Vouchers, that lawmakers didn’t think of in their rush to do something about those gays. This latter will lead to a removal or adjustment of the clause rendering it moot.

We’ll lock this gem away in our virtual time capsule on this blog, to bring it out at some later date to see if my prediction holds true or not.

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