If a member of the United States military wants to marry the person they love, regardless of their gender, United Church of Christ military chaplains can now decide to wed them. There are dozens of military chaplains endorsed by the UCC who represent the church with dignity and respect for all service personnel, regardless of their sexual orientation. The denomination expects that UCC chaplains will continue that same affirmation now that the federal government is recognizing same-gender marriages among those who serve their country.
"And the UCC gives them the latitude to do that," said the Rev. Stephen Boyd, UCC minister for chaplains and specialized ministers.
With the strides in equality for same-gender couples – the military repealed the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gay service personnel in 2010, and in June the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage law, which prohibited federal benefits to same-gender couples, was unconstitutional – the Department of Defense is asking each endorsing denomination to clarify the guidelines for their military chaplains regarding same-gender couples. Those changes prompted the Department of Defense to provide benefits to same-gender couples beginning Sept. 3, saying that "same sex couples in the military are entitled to the same benefits and services as any other married couple in the military."
"The United Church of Christ has entrusted its chaplains with a sacred duty, while recognizing that they each have personal beliefs," Boyd said. "Much like the pastors of our local congregations, we trust our chaplains will prayerfully consider whether or not to marry each couple who comes to them for counsel. In every case, we expect our UCC chaplains to treat all personnel with respect and dignity."
Boyd explained that Department of Defense policy protects military chaplains from performing any religious duty they may not feel comfortable. Similarly, chaplains cannot be ordered to perform a service they are theologically uncomfortable performing, but chaplains are still obligated to assist military personnel in finding someone who can provide that service.
"The United Church of Christ anticipates that our chaplains will deliberately and prayerfully consider these opportunities when asked to lead and participate in events attended by same-gender couples," Boyd said to his chaplains.
There are about 100 government endorsed chaplains representing the UCC, with 40 to 45 of those in the U.S. military. Boyd told UCC chaplains it is his intention "to walk and serve with you as you minister to the members of our Armed Forces, their families and our veterans."