The United States Air Force has reversed an earlier decision to punish a colonel for refusing on religious grounds to sign a certificate of appreciation to the same-sex spouse of a retiring serviceman.
Last year, Colonel Leland Bohannon was suspended for refusing to sign the certificate, with conservative groups and some members of Congress protesting the punishment.
In a letter sent to members of Congress on Monday, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson acknowledged that Col. Bohannon "had the right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not unlawfully discriminate when he declined to sign the certificate."
"The Air Force has a duty to treat people fairly and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation and [Bohannon] met that duty by having a more senior officer sign the certificate," wrote Secretary Wilson, as quoted by Stars and Stripes.
Hiram Sasser, general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, which filed an appeal to the Air Force Review Boards Agency last year on behalf of Bohannon, credited President Donald Trump as he celebrated the exoneration.
"We are very pleased that Secretary Wilson protected the religious liberty of Col. Bohannon. This is clear evidence that the Trump administration is helping to right the ship at the Pentagon," said Sasser in a statement.
"However, we must remember that at every level of the government there are bureaucrats who actively resist President Trump's efforts to preserve and protect religious freedom. We must do whatever we can to support the administration in this fight."
In May 2017 at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Bohannon 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 Associated Press last October.
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.
Conservative groups like the Family Research Council and the American Family Association lobbied for the punishment to be reversed, launching a petition in support of Bohannon that garnered over 77,000 signatories.
"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 petition.