Colonel Has Right Not To Recognize His Gay Master Sergeant’s Spouse, Air Force Says

news

The Air Force has exonerated a colonel who said his religious beliefs prevented him from signing certificate of spouse appreciation for a retiring master sergeant’s same-sex spouse.


Col. Leland Bohannon was suspended after he had a higher-ranking officer sign the certificate in his stead, but he successfully appealed to the Director of the Air Force Review Boards Agency, the Air Force said in a statement.

“The Air Force concluded that Colonel Bohannon had the right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not unlawfully discriminate when he declined to sign the certificate of appreciation for the same sex spouse of an airman in his command,” the Air Force statement says.

“The Air Force has a duty to treat people fairly and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation and met that duty by having a more senior officer sign the certificate.”

Bohannon’s records will now be updated to reflect his successful appeal, the statement says. The Air Force declined to respond when Task & Purpose asked if the service condones Bohannon’s religious beliefs on gays and lesbians.

The colonel had the support of lawmakers such as Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., who wrote Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in November to argue that the service’s protections for airmen based on their sexual orientation are against the law.

“Congress and the courts have rejected the notion that ‘sex’ includes ‘sexual orientation,’” Hartzler wrote. “The Air Force does not have the liberty to define new legal protections and this should certainly not constitute the grounds to punish airmen.”

The Air Force should have granted Bohannon a religious accommodation because the certificate “effectively had zero impact to the military member and therefore no adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, or health and safety,” Hartzler wrote.

Religious freedom is at the heart of the case, said Mike Berry, an attorney with the First Liberty Institute, who represented Bohannon. The institute is a self-described advocate for First Amendment religious protections.

Berry said the First Liberty Institute takes no position on whether gay and lesbian service members have the right to be married. In this case, Bohannon accommodated the master sergeant by having a two-star general sign the certificate, but the Air Force did not respond in kind, he said.

“There is a narrow religious liberty issue in this case, and that’s what we sought to address,” Berry told Task & Purpose. “A commander – or really any service member – who dons the uniform of the United States need not – and should never – be required to forfeit their constitutional rights, simply by virtue of being in the military.”

Berry said he did not argue that Bohannon’s First Amendment rights outweighed the Air Force’s instruction protecting airmen from discrimination based on sexual orientation. In this case, the certificate was for the master sergeant’s spouse, not the airman.

“Where do we draw the line between a service member’s religious freedom and other rights – I think that’s a question for the courts to decide,” Berry said. “The Constitution, Supreme Court case law and Air Force regulations all say that what happened to Col. Bohannon was wrong, that his religious rights should have been protected.”

However, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian troops and veterans has expressed its dismay at the Air Force’s decision to exonerate Bohannon.

“The purported argument that a leader is being discriminated against because we refuse to let them discriminate is both trite and detestable,” said Andy Blevins, director of law and policy for OutServe-SLDN. “It has been continually affirmed that the right to religious freedom within our military ranks stops when it begins to diminish unit cohesion and morale.

“In this instance,” he added, “that attenuation is very clear.”

U.S. soldiers surveil the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, November 1, 2018. Picture taken November 1, 2018. (U.S. Army/Zoe Garbarino/Handout via Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will leave "a small peacekeeping group" of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Read More Show Less
Construction crews staged material needed for the Santa Teresa Border Wall Replacement project near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol/Mani Albrecht)

With a legal fight challenge mounting from state governments over the Trump administration's use of a national emergency to construct at the U.S.-Mexico border, the president has kicked his push for the barrier into high gear.

On Wednesday, President Trump tweeted a time-lapse video of wall construction in New Mexico; the next day, he proclaimed that "THE WALL IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION RIGHT NOW"

But there's a big problem: The footage, which was filmed more than five months ago on Sep. 18, 2018, isn't really new wall construction at all, and certainly not part of the ongoing construction of "the wall" that Trump has been haggling with Congress over.

Read More Show Less
(From left to right) Chris Osman, Chris McKinley, Kent Kroeker, and Talon Burton

A group comprised of former U.S. military veterans and security contractors who were detained in Haiti on weapons charges has been brought back to the United States and arrested upon landing, The Miami-Herald reported.

The men — five Americans, two Serbs, and one Haitian — were stopped at a Port-au-Prince police checkpoint on Sunday while riding in two vehicles without license plates, according to police. When questioned, the heavily-armed men allegedly told police they were on a "government mission" before being taken into custody.

Read More Show Less
Army Sgt. Jeremy Seals died on Oct. 31, 2018, following a protracted battle with stomach cancer. His widow, Cheryl Seals is mounting a lawsuit alleging that military care providers missed her husband's cancer. Task & Purpose photo illustration by Aaron Provost

The widow of a soldier whose stomach cancer was allegedly overlooked by Army doctors for four years is mounting a medical malpractice lawsuit against the military, but due to a decades-old legal rule known as the Feres Doctrine, her case will likely be dismissed before it ever goes to trial.

Read More Show Less
The first grenade core was accidentally discovered on Nov. 28, 2018, by Virginia Department of Historic Resources staff examining relics recovered from the Betsy, a British ship scuttled during the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. The grenade's iron jacket had dissolved, but its core of black powder remained potent. Within a month or so, more than two dozen were found. (Virginia Department of Historic Resources via The Virginian-Pilot)

In an uh-oh episode of historic proportions, hand grenades from the last major battle of the Revolutionary War recently and repeatedly scrambled bomb squads in Virginia's capital city.

Wait – they had hand grenades in the Revolutionary War? Indeed. Hollow iron balls, filled with black powder, outfitted with a fuse, then lit and thrown.

And more than two dozen have been sitting in cardboard boxes at the Department of Historic Resources, undetected for 30 years.

Read More Show Less