Over 77,000 Sign Petitions Supporting Air Force Colonel Punished for Opposing Gay Marriage

A pair of socially conservative advocacy groups have sent two petitions signed by more than 77,000 people to the military in support of an Air Force colonel punished for not supporting gay marriage.

Colonel Leland Bohannon garnered headlines in October after being suspended for refusing on religious grounds to sign a certificate of appreciation to the same-sex spouse of a retiring serviceman.

Family Research Council and the American Family Association delivered 77,000 signed petitions in support of Bohannon to the Pentagon on Wednesday.

"I urge you to restore and protect Colonel Leland Bohannon's Constitutional right to freely exercise his religious beliefs by reversing the complaint against him and by removing any unfavorable remarks from his record related to this complaint," read the AFA's petition.

Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, Family Research Council's executive vice president, said in a statement Wednesday that "we will not back down from defending the religious liberty of those in the military."

"... over 77,000 Americans have joined together in this petition to say they will not stand for service members being punished and driven out simply for living in accordance with their religious beliefs," stated Boykin.

"The action taken against Colonel Bohannon is unacceptable, and Air Force policy must be corrected to ensure this does not happen again. In addition, the complaint against Col. Bohannon needs to be reversed and removed from his record."

The incident involving Bohannon occurred at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico in May, according to the Associated Press. He was asked to sign a "certificate of spouse appreciation" for an airman in a same-sex marriage. 

"The certificate is an unofficial document that's traditionally given to the spouses of retiring military members, and it's not legally required to be given," reported the AP.

Bohannon asked for a religious accommodation, saying he could not sign the document due to his beliefs as a Christian on marriage. 

Later, the airman filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity office, and Bohannon was accused of "unlawful discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation." He was then suspended.

Some, including transgender Navy veteran and attorney Paula Neira, have argued that Bohannon's refusal to sign the certificate is tantamount to "bigotry."

"The military is a secular institution and if an individual's deeply held religious beliefs prevent them from doing their duty and leading/treating all of their subordinates equally then they need to resign," said Neira to military.com.

But FRC has argued that servicemen and women should not be forced "to check their faith at the base's gates."

In addition to the petitions by the FRC and AFA, Bohannon is also receiving legal representation from the First Liberty Institute.