ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Air Force colonel was recently punished for declining to sign a document affirming a retiring subordinate’s same-sex “marriage.”
Col. Leland Bohannon, who serves at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, found himself in a predicament in May when he was handed a number of awards and certificates to sign for a master sergeant’s retirement ceremony. Among the certificates was a “certificate of spouse appreciation,” which is an optional document of recognition.
Because the master sergeant is in a homosexual relationship, Bohannon did not feel as a Christian that he should sign the certificate, as it would be a gesture of affirmation. He signed all of the other awards and certificates, and requested a religious accommodation from his superior for the spouse appreciation certificate.
The request was returned six weeks later “without action,” and in the meantime, Maj. Gen. Sami Said offered to sign the certificate instead. Bohannon agreed.
However, when the master sergeant discovered that Bohannon did not personally sign the spouse appreciation certificate, he filed an Equal Opportunity complaint, claiming that Bohannan discriminated against him.
Following an investigation, it was determined by Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets in August that even though he sought a religious accommodation, Bohannon was guilty of violating Air Force regulations by discriminating on the basis of “sexual orientation.”
As a result of the findings of an Equal Opportunity investigator, Lt. Gen. Anthony Rock suspended Bohannon from his command position, withheld decoration and submitted a letter recommending that Bohannon not receive the brigadier general promotion for which he is eligible.
Bohannon has now obtained assistance from the religious liberties organization First Liberty in filing an appeal of the determination.
“[T]here is no requirement that a commander issue a spouse certificate. Moreover, the instruction does not require the commander to personally sign a certificate, should one be issued,” the appeal letter, written by attorney Michael Berry, reads. “Yet the MSgt’s spouse nevertheless received a signed spouse certificate bearing the signature of a two-star general, far superior than one signed by Col. Bohannon.”
“In essence, the MSgt’s complaint is that the person of his choosing did not sign the certificate,” it notes, “even though the certificate presented was in fact superior as a result of Col. Bohannon’s efforts to balance his sincerely-held religious beliefs with the need to serve all airmen regardless of their beliefs.”
First Liberty believes that Tibbets’ determination is faulty, as he had asserted that a religious accommodation would not have changed the discrimination conclusion.
“Moreover, the EO investigator’s statement that ‘even if [a religious accommodation] were granted, excusing [Col. Bohannon] from signing a spouse certificate for same sex marriages, it would not apply in this case’ defies comprehension,” Berry wrote. “Such a position renders religious accommodations meaningless.”
“The primary purpose of a religious accommodation is to provide a legal justification for engaging, or refusing to engage, in particular conduct that is motivated by sincerely-held religious beliefs,” he contended. “Religious accommodations exist to avoid placing service members in the religious and moral dilemma of having to violate their religious convictions in order to serve.”
First Liberty says that it is prepared to take legal action should the Air Force not overturn the determination.