Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, were among the lawmakers who submitted a letter to the Air Force secretary this month voicing support for a military officer who claims he was wrongly disciplined after declining to sign a certificate of appreciation for a retiring master sergeant’s same-sex spouse.
Air Force Col. Leland Bohannon was relieved of his position as commander of the Air Force Inspection Agency at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico after he refused to sign an optional certificate of appreciation for the spouse in May because he said it conflicted with his religious beliefs.
Bohannon requested a religious exemption, which was returned “without action” weeks later, and another officer signed the certificate of appreciation instead.
The retiring officer who had originally requested the certificate recognizing his spouse accused Bohannon for discriminating against him and filed a complaint. Conservative lawmakers are calling on the Air Force secretary to defend Bohannon's religious liberty, however.
"During your own confirmation process, you made it a point to acknowledge that, 'Air Force commanders have a responsibility to ensure that the spiritual needs of all Airmen are met,'" the letter states. "We were highly encouraged by your answers and trusted that, when the time came, you would follow through. That time is now."
In addition to being removed from his post, a letter was sent to the Air Force Brigadier General promotion board advising that Bohannon not be given a promotion.
The letter to the Air Force secretary is also signed by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., John Kennedy, R-La., and James Lankford, R-Okla., and requests a reversal of Bohannon’s punishment as well as additional training on religious rights for Air Force leadership, according to the Associated Press.
The socially conservative Family Research Council also has backed Bohannon and has established an online petition requesting his punishment be reversed. Last Wednesday, the petition had reached 24,000 signatures.