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State laws supersede Pentagon on gay marriages at U.S. bases

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
updated 7:10 PM EDT, Thu May 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gay marriages can't occur on military bases in states that have outlawed the practice
  • "State law controls in that situation," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says
  • Republicans on House panel vote for provision outlawing gay marriage on all U.S. bases
  • Panetta notes report showing repeal of DADT hasn't adversely affected the military

Washington (CNN) -- Gay service members who want to marry often can't have the ceremony on military bases in the United States. It's not the Pentagon that has authority, but the states where the bases are located.

Many states that are home to some of the nation's largest military bases have outlawed same-sex marriage, including North Carolina, Texas and California.

So if a gay military couple wants to get married in those states, they can't, even on U.S. military property.

Said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: "State law controls in that situation. So you know, where state law provides for that, then obviously that kind of marriage can take place. And if the law prohibits that, then it cannot take place on a military base."

If Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have their way, no gay marriages will take place on any military bases. In a straight party-line vote, the GOP members of the HASC voted Thursday to include a provision in the new defense authorization bill outlawing any gay marriage ceremonies on military bases.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to publicly support gay marriage, but Panetta declined to follow in his boss's footsteps.

"You know I'm not going to render a personal opinion on that. As secretary of defense I'm responsible for enforcing the law and giving the best defense advice we can to the president of the United States," said Panetta, who is a staunch Roman Catholic.

Even though there was similar criticism to the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," Panetta cited a study about the aftermath of the repeal DADT, saying, "It's not impacting on morale. It's not impacting on unit cohesion. It is not impacting on readiness."

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