DOMA Ruling and Pagan Marriage Rites

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 18, 2012 — 41 Comments

The Second Circuit Federal Appeals Court has today issued a ruling striking down the controversial Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that defines marriage as (only) between one man and one woman. Even more striking, according to ThinkProgress, is that the opinion, penned by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, a deeply conservative appointee, is so sweeping in its decision.

Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs

Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs

“Jacobs is not simply saying that DOMA imposes unique and unconstitutional burdens on gay couples, he is saying that any attempt by government to discriminate against gay people must have an “exceedingly persuasive” justification. This is the same very skeptical standard afforded to laws that discriminate against women. If Jacobs’ reasoning is adopted by the Supreme Court, it will be a sweeping victory for gay rights, likely causing state discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to be virtually eliminated. And the fact that this decision came from such a conservative judge makes it all the more likely that DOMA will ultimately be struck down by the Supreme Court.”

In essence, the writing is on the wall, the battle over whether same-sex couples will be able to legally marry their partner is all but won by those who believe in marriage equality. So even if the various same-sex marriage initiatives going to the ballot box this November end up restricting marriage rights/rites, it seems increasingly likely that a Supreme Court decision will eventually trump them all. This is as it should be, because the basic inherent rights of individuals to form social contracts, and have those contracts be legally binding, to have their unions recognized by hospitals, courts, and the government that claims to represent them, should not be put to a popular vote. Otherwise you cater to the whims and prejudices of the majority, and in the process you end up privileging the religions that oppose same-sex unions.

“…as a Christian, I think it is time to admit who bears responsibility for atrocities like Amendment One and all other anti-LGBT legislation. It’s Christianity. I might want to say I’m not like those Christians over there who stood for Amendment One and other such legislation. But they are my brothers and sisters in the faith, no two ways about it. I might want to say those Christians don’t represent what Christ stood for. But I bet they would say the same thing about me. I can try to split hairs and divide the Christian community so I don’t have to think about the hate my faith tradition has spawned and let loose in the world like a legion of demons. But I can’t say any of that with a shred of integrity.” – Episcopal postulant David R. Henson

The fight for the equal rights and treatment of same-sex couples ultimately benefits the religions that support those rights, and destabilizes the ones that don’t. So it’s little wonder that opposition to same-sex marriage is regularly portrayed as a struggle against “paganism” by those who feel especially threatened.

“Marriage may be done for this culture in certain sectors, in certain pockets, but marriage most certainly is certainly not done because it is the God-ordained institution that mirrors the analogy of Christ and His church, it is the human institution that most closely reflects the heart of God the Father in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s why they’re attacking it, they don’t know that that’s why they’re attacking it, they’re attacking it because they’re looking at all the advances in medical technology. I can have a baby without a man, so why do I need a man? I can earn more than a man, so why do I need a man? You can have a baby by adoption, and you can do it with a same-sex partner, so why do you need marriage? This is exactly what the pagans did, way back when, this is exactly what they did: destroy marriage. It’s shaking a fist in the face of God.” – Christian radio host Janet Mefferd

Within modern Pagan communities, support for legal same-sex marriage has been strong for years, with luminaries like Starhawk and organizations like the Covenant of the Goddess showing their support.

“Covenant of the Goddess has, since its inception in 1975, had clergy willing to celebrate the religious if not the legal joining of two members of the same gender. While we respect the right of the individual clergy within COG who may choose not to perform such a ceremony, we are in support of marriage between two committed adults of any gender, and a majority of our celebrants are willing to perform such ceremonies.”

A truly pluralistic and secular government understands that allowing one religious paradigm concerning marriage to trump all others is wrong, and undermines the very rights a free society holds sacred. We no longer live in a solely Christian nation, nor did we ever, really, from the very beginning America was built on a dance of power and privilege that sought to establish dominance for one viewpoint. That can no longer stand, and today’s ruling is not only a positive step forward for the rights of same-sex couples, but is also a step forward for all those who would want to bless those unions.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • It is sad and terrifying at once that so many Christians refuse to acknowledge that their religious beliefs should not be enshrined into law! Preach against gays, refuse to recognize their marriages in your church, fine, but this is from day one designed to be a secular nation!

  • Michael Lloyd

    As a gay man and a Pagan, I am heartened by the progress that has been made on gay rights during my own lifetime (54 years now, and counting). When I was coming of age, sexual acts for my kind were outlawed in nearly every state in the union. The mental health profession was just coming to terms with the fact that we are not mentally ill. Positive role models were as rare as hen’s teeth, and public disdain (and worse) was the rule rather than the exception. When I see how much progress we have made, it has given me a great deal of hope. But there is much more yet to do. Marriage and the military are two battles which need to be won in the march toward equality, but we should not kid ourselves. The war will hardly be won even when these barriers fall. The military was racially integrated in the 1950s, and miscegenation laws fell in the 1960s, and yet one need look no further than to the rampant racism being spewed today by some of the same people who are opposed to gay marriage to see that we will still have a long way to go to find security in our jobs, in provision of services, etc. But we will eventually get there if we remain committed to the principles and ideals that saw the birth of this country. There will come a day when the word of one faith community, no matter how loud it is shouted and no matter by how many throats, will be permitted to make laws to the detriment of other citizens and other faith communities who wish to live in peace and harmony equality with their neighbors. Love is love. So mote it be.

    • Michael Lloyd

      I meant to say “…will no longer be permitted…”. Such is the danger of responding using the tiny screen on one’s phone. :-/

  • AnantaAndroscoggin

    This is indeed good to hear.

    We’re one of the states where the PRO-gay marriage referendae is up on the ballot, and recently the out-of-state fear-and-hate peddlers of the Reactionary Religious Reich (to wit: the only people who can call an actual conservative “RINO” with a straight face) have begun to run their deceitful advertising against our Measure One.

    I’ve just recently been asked to perform a gay handfasting next September here in Maine. My first wish stated to them is that instead, they will be able to have a marriage license for me to sign that day.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    DOMA was unconstitutional prima facie from Day One, because it purports to excuse states from recognizing gay marriages officiated in other states, in the face of the Constitution’s demand that states give full faith and credence to one another’s records. The most conservative judge in the country could find this because it is so firmly based in the original intent of the Framers.
    Pagans benefit from this decision because now no state legislature can take it into its head to withhold recognition from marriages officiated by Pagan clergy in other states.

  • Such good news!

  • dreamsherd

    Janet Mefferd has it exactly backwards; marriage was a pagan invention, around for far longer than Christianity. what is “being destroyed” is Christianity’s arrogant assertion that theirs is the only definition acceptable to our society.

  • you know MARRIAGE has been around LONGER then Christianity. so to say ONLY christianity knows what marriage is is a joke. like them…. marriage is a union bewteen to lovers a tryst jsut because a MAN wrote words down in a bookand swears they are from God does not make it God’s word…… sorry the God I was raised to believe KNEW what we were before we were made and god does not make mistakes there fore you can shove that good book that hates women, chooses WHAT to acept from it ( like no gays but you can tatoo yourself, grow sideburns and not murder you wife and kids for misbehaving.) seriously STFU

  • mhc

    Unless I have really messed up my memory of European history, wasn’t it one of the KEY points of the Protestant reformation that marriage was a CIVIL institution, NOT a divine one, and therefore the English king and others could dissolve a marriage? So WHY are Protestants involved in marriage issues at all? (OK that was a rhetorical question, it’s about power and bigotry). But still, according to their history it’s nothing to do with them, just a business contract like so many others.

    • Robert Mathiesen

      Because Protestants have forgotten their own history. In the first English colony in New England (Plymouth Colony), only the civil magistrate could solemnize a marriage.

      • kenneth

        Most of them also forgot that it was their own ancestors, not some atheists, who developed the concept of a “wall of separation between church and state.” Of course they argued for tolerance from a position of weakness when they were the minority behind the 8-ball of state religion. Now that they’ve got the upper hand, they think the idea of no-quarter given majority rule is pretty cool….

  • Charles Cosimano

    I can’t wait to see what Rod Dreher says about this.

    • kenneth

      I’m getting a literary image of a man “urinating razorblades” ! 🙂

  • “A truly pluralistic and secular government understands that allowing one religious paradigm concerning marriage to trump all others is wrong, and undermines the very rights a free society holds sacred.”

    That’s a pretty sweeping statement. Does that mean you support the right of fundamentalist Mormons to engage in polygamy? Muslim men marrying pre-pubescent girls? I’m not comparing the two to gay marriage, but your statement was broad to the point of endorsing marrying a goat. You sure you don’t want to walk that back a bit?

    • Not as sweeping as you seem to want to make it.

      For the record, I have no issue with consenting adults – emphasis on consenting adults – from any number of religious paradigms entering into a variety of social contracts. I’ve written extensively about polyamory within modern Paganism. However, your (in my mind unwarranted) slippery-slope mentioning of children and bestiality fall outside the boundaries of parties able to give true consent. So no, I don’t endorse non-consenting unions involving children or animals. That I had to make that explicit for you displays clearly the filter through which you read my posts.

      • Your feigned righteous indignation aside (my “lens” was simply what you wrote, which was on the face of it overly broad to any reasonable person reading it), you still didn’t mention the polygamy example. You merely said “one religious paradigm”. What if another “religious paradigm” did include children (and some do, to their shame)? Your original statement was entirely silent on the subject. Don’t try to cast blame because you’re being vague in the name of being inclusive.

        • As I just said, I don’t condone or approve of non-consenting arrangements. So I wasn’t “silent,” I answered your question.

          • kenneth

            I don’t know. You might want to employ a political advisor and contract attorney to draw up airtight small-print disclaimers for every statement you make! If, for example, you advocate free dietary choice, we’ll have to assume that you tacitly endorse cannibalism if you don’t explicitly condemn it in your support of meat-eaters!

        • kenneth

          The “slippery slope” is only a conundrum for conservatives, as they lack the willingness or ability to draw distinctions or acknowledge complexity in any sort of moral reasoning problems. They would have people believe there is no open ground whatsoever between their position and utter nihilism.

          Drawing distinctions between gay marriage and pederasty/marriage to a goat is not some irreducibly complex astrophysics problem or Gordian Knot. The answers lie in basic legal concepts that have been around in modern form for centuries and have their foundation in jurisprudence dating back many thousands of years.

          Marriage is contract law, and contracts presuppose the ability of the parties to give informed consent and to comprehend the obligations of that contract. In modern times, children and younger teens are understood to lack that standing. Animals have never been accorded that sort of agency. There you have it. The hideous danger in Jason’s supposedly over-broad statement is neutralized well before it can melt the reactor core of civilization itself.

          Polygamy, if practiced among truly consenting adults, is not remotely comparable. It should be legal. The only issue there is a technical one of how to create equitable property rights and considerations for child custody etc.

          The core statement you reacted to, which holds that one religious paradigm should not trump another, is a valid statement. “Because my God/book says so” is never a proper reason to make laws in a secular republic. People should be free to live as they will unless some sufficient secular reason can be articulated to limit that freedom. The opponents of gay marriage have failed utterly to articulate or demonstrate any such reason, and so they resort to the fear of slippery slopes.

        • BryonMorrigan

          I’m _so_ surprised that a Conservative would play “devil’s advocate” in the name of the Christians. SO surprised. Really I am. Keep licking your masters’ boots…and keep proving my point about “Conservative Pagans.”

          • Brian Scott

            Oh crap in a bucket, let us please not get into this inane slurring of conservative thought. Pagans, and everyone else for that matter, come from all sorts of political backgrounds. Let’s not degenerate into blue-green wars because his opinion is unusual here.

          • BryonMorrigan

            It’s a fairly 100% situation. Any time that a Conservative politician/group/etc. takes a position that is pro-Christian, Christian Supremacist, or just plain Anti-Pagan…you can have no doubt that “Conservative Pagans” will be here on TWH, defending the Christians. Happens every time. It’s spineless, cowardly, and should be ridiculed with intensity.

          • Brian Scott

            My point is that “oh, of course it’s a conservative” is wrong-minded in the same way “oh, of course a pagan says xyz”. As kenneth says, there are conservatives that don’t toe the party line and don’t let colour politics get in the way of rational discussion. I think it would be more conducive to discussion if we do the same, regardless of the potential to take pot shots at the other side.

          • kenneth

            If someone is going to represent “conservative thought” with nothing more than absurdities and sophomoric forensics sleight of hand, they deserve to be called out on it. GOPagan’s statements in this instance are no less insulting to real conservatives than to liberals. It is equally insulting to anyone who employs critical thinking.

            Real conservatives, including a fair number of Christians and the justices who authored this latest ruling, grasp the “live and let live” principle of limited government which historically defined real conservatism.

            GOPagan, though he professes up and down to be completely 180-degree not fundamentalist Christian or Christian of any kind, comes around and parrots the Evangelical/Catholic/Mormon party line on gay marriage? If he doesn’t subscribe to that, why bring it up? Was he just feeling snarky and wanted to give Jason a thumb in the eye on the occasion of his site move? Was he going for a bit of Jon Stewart humor that just failed to translate in the combox world?

            Conservative pagans keep saying they can’t get a fair shake in our community, but all they ever put before us is the party line of the most intolerant strains of fundamentalist Christian neo-conservatism. We keep hearing from people who say “I’m not down with their social agenda, but they have the right vision of America.” Huh?

            At least some pagan conservatives are figuring out that they’re libertarians, not Republicans. The GOP on the other hand has an open, professed agenda to marginalize and suppress us, gays, and anyone else who doesn’t toe the line with their religion. For some inexplicable reason, some conservative pagans defend that, then tell us we’re bullies for “over-reacting” to it.

          • AnantaAndroscoggin

            He wasn’t stating “conservative thought,” but rather full-on “reactionary hyperbole.”

          • In point of fact, I wasn’t talking about the issue of gay marriage. If you’ll care to re-read my original comment, I was speaking specifically about Jason’s overly-broad endorsement of freedom of marriage based on religion. Perhaps an overly nuanced argument for a knee-jerk liberal such as yourself, but there it is.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      That is an odd interpretation you have there. I read it differently:

      (In a pluralistic and secular society) one religion should not have any special advantage that allows it to trump other religions, concerning marriage.

      This does not mean the statement supports the religious marrying of those who do not, indeed cannot, consent to such a legal union. That would be the trumping of one religion over others, concerning marriage.

    • Indorri

      I don’t think your evaluation is warranted. The key words there were “religious paradigm”. It is the case right now that freedom to marry in the US is curtailed mostly for religious reasons.

      • BryonMorrigan

        It’s SOLELY based on religious reasons…and that’s why ALL Pagans should be opposed to ANY Christian Supremacist legislation, regardless of who promotes it, or whether they consider themselves Liberal, Conservative, or Libertarian. Sadly, that is rarely the case.

    • AnantaAndroscoggin

      As to your Muslim men marrying pre-pubescent children, THAT’S INFRINGING on the RIGHTS OF THOSE GIRLS in the very FIRST PLACE. Are you declaring that no female human beings do not have any human rights? As to incidents with livestock, they’re still considered chattel property today, just as in the Code of Hamurabi. How can livestock act as a spouse? Of course, there was that one Texas boy who kept talking about his “favorite stump-broke heifer.”

      • “Are you declaring that no female human beings do not have any human rights”

        Of course not. I am, in fact, saying exactly the opposite. My reaction was to Jason’s original statement, which I felt was over-broad to the point that it *would*, in fact, condone such behavior.

        • Brian Scott

          The reason why I think your reasoning is incorrect is because you address something orthogonal to what Jason said. There are various criteria we may appeal to in order to decide what relationships are permitted. Jason’s point is that religious criteria are not in and of themselves valid. It is a separate issue as to what those criteria are, which is what your point actually addresses.

  • David Henson’s statement, quoted by Jason, is worth looking at closely (I’ve quoted the most relevant passage below at the bottom of this comment).

    Self-described “liberal Christians” really need to ask themselves whether or not they really want to consider themselves as being part of the same religious tradition as Pope Ratzinger and Michele Bachmann. For my part, I am perfectly willing to theologically disown any bigots who claim to be Pagan: they are not my “brothers and sisters in the faith”.

    No two ways about it!

    David Henson: “…as a Christian, I think it is time to admit who bears responsibility for atrocities like Amendment One and all other anti-LGBT legislation. It’s Christianity. I might want to say I’m not like those Christians over there who stood for Amendment One and other such legislation. But they are my brothers and sisters in the faith, no two ways about it.”

    • I get what you are saying here, but at what point does this become a ‘No True Scotsman” defense?

      • Some things must be true of Scotsmen, or else no such thing as a Scotsman exists in the first place. One must be able to answer the question of what makes a Scotsman a Scotsman, and what makes a Pagan a Pagan.

        In my opinion a Pagan must honor Eros and Aphrodite or some equivalent deities. A Pagan must also honor the intrinsic sacredness of the human body and of human sexuality. Obviously there are myriad ways of doing these things, but in my opinion all of them are incompatible with homophobia.

        Emma Goldman said “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Well, I think Pagans should say, “If you don’t honor Love and Sexuality in all their forms then my Paganism has nothing to do with yours.”

        Pagans should also honor Libertas, the Goddess of Freedom (or whatever you call Her in your tradition), and this requires us to respect every individual’s right to live as they choose so long as they in no way infringe on our right to do the same.

        It all comes down to what good old Uncle Al said: “There is no part of me that is not of the Gods.” Anyone who isn’t down with that is not part of my Paganism.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          “In my opinion a Pagan must honor Eros and Aphrodite or some equivalent deities.”
          I believe without veneration. I guess I am not a Pagan.

          “A Pagan must also honor the intrinsic sacredness of the human body and of human sexuality.”
          I see no more sanctity in human sexuality than I do an itch that needs scratching. I see the human body as no more sacred than any other organism’s body. I guess I am not a Pagan.

          I go with a very basic definition of Paganism – does the person believe in the Pre-Christian European gods? if yes, then Pagan. If no, then not.

          • Eros, Aphrodite and Libertas are among the pre-Christian European Gods. So your response fails by its own logic.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            No it doesn’t. I wasn’t saying you are not a Pagan, I was merely pointing out that you were saying that I am not.

        • The problem that I see with deciding ‘who is Pagan’ as opposed to ‘who is a Scotsman’ is that one is incredibly simple to determine a Scotsman (i.e. the would-be Scotsman would actually have to have Scottish heritage and/or be accepted as a Scot within that community) as compared to a Pagan. The term is incredibly nebulous, almost to the point where boundary-setting by it is damned near impossible.

  • COG is on record as supporting unions of consenting adults without regard for gender or number of participants.

  • Pitch313

    Sometimes–as a Pagan practitioner–I find myself devoted to the notion that marriage may obtain between a human being and a non-human being or entity.