House Armed Services chairman: No compromises on gay marriage, detainees

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said that he would rather go without a defense spending bill this year than compromise on allowing military chaplains to conduct gay marriages.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that he would also rather see Congress fail to pass a defense authorization measure for the first time in 50 years if it meant giving in on a provision that effectively bans many terrorism suspects from getting civilian trials.

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McKeon’s comments could aggrivate a staredown with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which hasn’t shown as much inclination to take a similar stance on those issues. 

The Senate’s defense authorization bill, which has cleared the Armed Services panel but not the full chamber, does not include the House provision on gay marriage. And some Democrats in that chamber are reportedly not on board with a compromise on detainee trials currently in the Senate measure.

“My hope is that we will have a good bill,” McKeon said.

Still, noting that his defense spending bill passed both the Armed Service panel and the full House overwhelmingly, McKeon also expressed hope that the Senate would come to his side in those areas.

“I’m hopeful that the Senate will look at those votes and will understand our feelings on this issue,” McKeon said on the same-sex marriage issue. 

“This was one of the concerns that we had – that we were rushing this, to eliminate this, before we had fully prepared things. And DOMA is the law of the land,” McKeon added, referencing the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that bans any federal recognition of gay marriage.

President Obama has directed that the federal government no longer defend that law in court. The Pentagon also said after the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that military chaplains could, but were not required to, officiate at gay marriages if they were sanctioned under state and local law.

As for detainee trials, the Senate measure currently allows civilian trials for terrorism detainees, if preferable for national security reasons. 

But McKeon noted that the government had already poured resources into setting up military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay.  

“Why would we want to bring these terrorists that have done these kinds of things into the country and put us at more risk?” McKeon said. “To me, it doesn’t make sense."

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