ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A colonel in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) is being relieved of his command for refusing to acknowledge an airman's same-sex marriage.
On October 26, it was reported that Col. Leland Bohannon, commanding officer of a major military unit at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is being let go and will no longer be up for promotion after refusing to sign a "certificate of spouse appreciation" for a retiree's same-sex partner.
"We are hopeful that the Air Force will do the right thing, not just for Col. Bohannon but for all Airmen," said Bohannon's lawyer, Michael Berry, to Church Militant. "Commanders and Airmen at all levels deserve to know that the Air Force values their leadership and will not force them to give up their religious freedom as a condition of serving."
In May 2017, Bohannon, acting on legal advice from the USAF and his chaplain, filed for a religious exemption to opt out of signing the certificate. The exemption request, however, was returned six weeks later "without action." He opted to issue the certificate with the signature of Maj. Gen. Sami Said, a two-star general — a rank significantly higher than Bohannon's and who willingly signed it.
After the retiring Master Sergeant (MSgt) learned Bohannon didn't sign the certificate for religious reasons, he submitted an Equal Opportunity (EO) complaint, alleging that Bohannon discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation.
The USAF responded by relieving him of command and blocking him from any further promotions.
As a Christian husband and father of five children, Bohannon has served with honor and distinction as a bomber pilot in Afghanistan and Iraq, earning the Bronze Star, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Medal. The judgment by the USAF, however, has blocked his promotion to brigadier general.
Berry sent an appeal letter to the Air Force Review Boards Agency maintaining Bohannon couldn't sign the certificate because "to do so would have caused him to affirm the definition of marriage contrary to his sincerely held belief."
It asserts four reasons the actions taken against him were "defective" and "unsupported by law."
First, the spouse certificate of appreciation is not required to be issued to a retiree's spouse, nor is it required that it be signed by the retiree's superior officer.
Second, it claims that under USAF law the "MSgt is not a proper complainant under this requirement because he was not the subject of the alleged discrimination." It goes on, "As the retiring service member, rather than the spouse of a retiring member, the MSgt is not the intended recipient of a spouse certificate." It concludes, "[t]he complaint should have been dismissed as improper."
Third, it declares that even if the complaint were "proper," neither USAF nor U.S. law interprets "sex" to mean sexual orientation as the complaint alleges.
Fourth, it maintains that Bohannon has the right to "free exercise of his religious beliefs," quoting the Department of Defense Instruction. It directs that military personnel has a right to their sincerely held religious beliefs, "Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion and good order and discipline."
Moreover, when the EO investigator decided the allegations against Bohannon were "substantiated," he commented that a religious exemption would not have saved him against being found guilty of unlawful discrimination.
Fellow officer Col. Kristin Goodwin said of him, "I see him as a leader, a father and a husband, going out every single day and trying to make a difference in the world. Not only does he make that difference, he does it with grace, style and even temperament."