Conscience Clause at Issue in Defense Bill Vote

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WASHINGTON - Even before the defense funding bill hit the House floor for debate Thursday, the White House threatened a veto.

There are plenty of polarizing items in the bill, including debate over its cost. But issues stemming from the repeal of "Don't ask, Don't Tell" are also surfacing.

Republican lawmakers are pushing for a measure that would protect the conscience of all armed services personnel who disagree with homosexuality.

"This is a legitimate conscience protection act," Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., said.

Akin said without such protections service members, including chaplains, could be demoted or punished for voicing their moral or religious beliefs.

"The chaplains are an integral part of our defense and have been for a long time," Akin added. "And honoring the beliefs and the convictions of those people is only reasonable."

"We need to allow people to have those kinds of beliefs without being worried that they're going to get demoted or run over because they believe in something," he explained.

Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network fought against the repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Sarvis said he feels Akin's amendment is an attempt to re-open the debate on homosexuals serving openly in military.

"Americans are ready for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the ranks, and they're doing so - and they're doing so successfully," Sarvis said.

"He may well pass it in House. He may well see it come out of committee. But the bottom line is Congress is not going to change its mind on this new policy," he added.

If the bill passes, the legislation would also include a measure banning the use of any military facility for same-sex weddings.

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