msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/30/2011 11:45:25 AM ET 2011-09-30T15:45:25

The Pentagon has decided that military chaplains may perform same-sex unions, whether on or off military property.

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The ruling announced Friday by the Pentagon's personnel chief follows the historic Sept. 20 repeal of a law that had prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

"A military chaplain may participate in or officiate any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law," a memo released Friday said. "Further a chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion."

The Department of Defense statement, issued by Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford L. Stanley, also makes clear that the Pentagon doesn't back the individual ceremonies, despite passing the ruling.

"A military chaplain’s participation does not constitute an endorsement of the ceremony by DoD," it says.

Difference in benefits?
The ban on gay people serving openly in the military, commonly known as "don't ask don't tell," was in place for 18 years before it was repealed. It allowed gays to serve as long as they did not openly acknowledge their sexual orientation, and prohibited commanders from asking.

Navy chaplains' training was updated in May to answer questions about civil ceremonies for gay couples, months before the repeal, should the ban be dropped.

On May 9, The Associated Press reported that even if a marriage were to be performed, same-sex Navy partners would not get any health, housing or other benefits that are provided to married couples involving a man and woman.

Some members of Congress have objected to military chaplains performing same-sex unions, saying it would violate the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Othersarguing that it may undermine order and discipline.

On Sept. 20, when the ban was lifted, Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters, "No one should be left with the impression that we are unprepared. We are prepared for repeal."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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