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Gay Army couple says chaplain barred them from marriage retreat

Nov. 21, 2013 - 09:25PM   |  
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A same-sex couple at Fort Irwin, Calif., says they have been denied participation in an Army marriage enrichment program because of their sexual orientation, even though they are legally married.

Shakera Leigh Halford said her wife, a soldier at the post, approached a chaplain at Fort Irwin about participating in a “Strong Bonds” retreat at the base but was told the couple is “ineligible” because of their sexual orientation.

“I’m very sad and disappointed,” Halford said in a statement. “To know there are valuable resources available to soldiers and their families to help us through the challenges of military life, and then be told that we aren’t eligible because of our sexual orientation ... it hurts. It really hurts. We’re at a pretty secluded base and there aren’t many other resources out there for us, so what are we supposed to do?”

The retreat is one of the many services run by the Army’s Chaplain Corps. The Southern Baptist Convention, which provides the largest share of active-duty military chaplains, has barred members from taking part in weddings, counseling sessions and couples retreats for same-sex couples. Similar restrictions apply to Roman Catholic chaplains.

Southern Baptist chaplains in violation of these restrictions will be subject to removal of their endorsement, by order of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Advocates for the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community say Halford’s case is merely the first that has come to light, unless the Defense Department resolves the conflict between gay and lesbian troops and the chaplains who refuse to serve them.

“The question is, ‘What is the Defense Department going to do to secure the rights of LGBT soldiers when it conflicts with the chaplain endorsing agencies?” said Chris Rowzee, a spokeswoman for the American Military Partner Association, which is representing Halford.

Rowzee said the restrictions on chaplains place them in danger of shirking their obligation to provide for the faith needs of all soldiers.

“Although we are concerned for Shakera Halford and her spouse, our concern is the bigger picture of how the Chaplain Corps is responding to the needs of our service members,” she said.

A spokesperson at Fort Irwin, Calif., did not immediately have a comment. AMPA did not provide the name and rank of Halford’s spouse.

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