Reporting from Washington — The Republican-led House made a last-minute bid Friday to slow the elimination of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military, sparking a heated debate over same-sex marriage. On the same day, the Pentagon ordered the armed forces to begin admitting service members "without regard to sexual orientation."
As part of a $650-billion defense spending bill approved by the House, Republicans, with help from some Democrats, pushed through an amendment blocking funds to train chaplains on implementing the military's new policy. Another amendment would prohibit the use of defense funds to contravene the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Photos: Don't Ask, Don't Tell
The House provisions were more symbolic than substantive, underscoring GOP unease with dismantling the law that barred openly gay people from serving in the military. Any Pentagon funding measure would have to be adopted by the Senate, which is unlikely to go along with such provisions.
In December, Congress repealed the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law, but the repeal has been on hold while the Pentagon drafts training and procedures for the change.
The law was ruled unconstitutional last year, and a federal appeals court this week said it should no longer be enforced. In response, the Defense Department on Friday directed the military to "process applications for enlistment or appointment without regard to sexual orientation." The instruction was in a memorandum issued by Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.
"This is an attempt to play politics with this bill and to open up the already-settled issue of 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal by throwing a spurious issue into the conversation," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, which has fought the ban for years.
The House attempt to slow implementation of the new military policies capped a three-day process that had been largely focused on spending.
Lawmakers debated a proposal to cap the Pentagon's budget for military bands, ultimately agreeing that $200 million a year was enough. They also held a late-night debate over the National Guard's $20-million sponsorship of race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., among $63 million spent on sponsorships meant to bring in recruits. A proposal to limit the spending was defeated, 260-167.
The overall bill would provide $530 billion for the Pentagon — about $9 billion less than Obama had requested — and $119 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Defense Department is the only government agency that will receive a double-digit increase in its budget for fiscal year 2012.