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Obama Signs Defense Bill With ‘Conscience’ Clause, House Expected to OK More Money to Defend DOMA

By Karen Ocamb
News Editor

(President Obama taking the plunge on Jan. 1, 2012 in Hawaii, where he is now celebrating New Year's 2013 after avoiding going over the “fiscal cliff.” Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act Thursday, Jan. 3, but made it very clear in a lengthy signing statement that he did not agree with a number of provisions included in the bill. Specifically, as Buzzfeed points out, Obama objects to a provision limiting detainee transfers that “raise constitutional concerns.” He also disapproves of Section 533, the military “conscience” provision that requires the military to accommodate the “moral principles, or religious beliefs” of servicemembers and chaplains who serve the military, regardless of any adverse reactions.

In the signing statement, Obama says (see full statement below):

Section 533 is an unnecessary and ill-advised provision, as the military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members. The Secretary of Defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct. My Administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; Section 533 will not alter that.

The ACLU issued this in response:

“The language is too broad,” said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who cautioned that it could lead to claims of a right to discriminate.

“We strongly support accommodating beliefs, so long as doing so does not result in discrimination or harm to others,” Murphy said.  “The hastily drafted provision, though, has the potential to give rise to dangerous claims of a right to discriminate against not just lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, but also women, religious minorities, and in the provision of health care….

It is encouraging that the president recognizes why this provision is so problematic. Going forward, it is essential for the Department of Defense to ensure that no accommodation of religious belief or conscience can result in discrimination or harm to others.”

Meanwhile, as the new 113th Congress is sworn in today, new changes to the Rules of the House of Representatives are expected to be approved that includes more taxpayer money going to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder refuse to defend in federal court because they think it’s unconstitutional, as do several federal courts of appeal. This comes as conservative House Republicans complain about out-of-control Washington spending (which Obama also slams in his signing statement).

Human Rights Campaign Legislative Director Allison Herwitt said in response to the hike in DOMA defense spending:

“In their very first act of the 113th Congress, House Republican leaders have written their commitment to their multi-million-dollar defense of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act into the Rules of the House. It is particularly disappointing that this historic Congress – with the largest-ever class of openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Members and same-sex congressional spouses – has begun with a vote that disrespects those new Members and all LGBT Americans.

To date, the GOP leadership in the House has spent nearly $2 million on DOMA – despite the fact that a majority of Americans support marriage equality. The new rules package codifies that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), charged with the defense of DOMA, speaks for the entirety of the House. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats, however, oppose spending taxpayer dollars on defending DOMA.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, also issued a statement:

“It’s truly disheartening that, on a day of new beginnings on Capitol Hill, the leadership of the House of Representatives is advancing a measure, through its rules, to continue spending taxpayer dollars on expensive lawyers to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in court. This law has been struck down as unconstitutional 10 times, with support from judges appointed by Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes. It’s past time for the Republican leadership to listen to their constituents, a majority of whom support the freedom to marry, and stop wasting precious resources in an effort to treat fellow Americans as second-class citizens.”

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