Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down rulings on United States v. Windsor, which challenged the constitutionality of DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which centered on California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that banned legal same-sex marriages. In short, both rulings are seen as victories for proponents of marriage equality, and for clergy who perform same-sex marriages. The first ruling this morning from the Supreme Court was on the matter of DOMA, and it was ruled unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote. Here’s SCOTUSblog’s “Plain English” take on the ruling.
“The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.“
The California Proposition 8 ruling was more complex, and hinges on issues of standing, but it is widely seen as clearing the way for legal same-sex marriages in the state.
“The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.”
As I’ve reported several times before at this site, this issue is both about the basic human rights of same sex couples, and the rights of clergy who officiate their unions. The banning of legal same-sex unions was seen by many as privileging the religious views of those opposed to legal recognition over those who supported it. Now, with this latest hurdle crossed, same sex unions performed in states where it is legal (soon to include California) will be federally recognized, and those couples will receive all the benefits currently granted to married couples by the government. Washington DC Pagan, and Human Rights Campaign employee David Salisbury, in reacting to the SCOTUS decisions, celebrated today as a “watershed moment.”
“Although we were hoping for a broader decision, this is still an incredible day to be working for equality and a watershed moment for this movement. I am so proud of my colleagues at the Human Rights Campaign for all the work we’ve done to encourage nationwide support and excitement around this issue. We still have a lot of work to do in this area and many others in the future, but we here in Washington DC will celebrate this momentous day at the Supreme Court with cheers from the rest of the nation behind us. It is also a proud time to be an American Pagan, which is a movement of people who have largely always supported equality for all.”
Kathryn Robinson Kyair, a Gythja in the Asatru faith who was legally married to her partner in California before Prop. 8 won passage in 2008, was initially in a state of shock over the news, but eventually realized the ramifications: “We are equal.”
“How long have we fought, tooth and nail, for this? Every step along the way has been a fight. And suddenly, this one makes our marriage equal. WOW. Prop H8: thrown back to CA. Judge Walker’s ruling stands. Prop H8 is unconstitutional…his words…and now marriage in CA can resume! Wow! It all slowly sinks in. It’s all good. Yes, there are still details to fight, but, it’s good! Holy S***! My wife, Jeani, and I are married! REALLY married. It DOES feel different. It finally feels REAL!”
For decades, many within the modern Pagan movement have performed marriage rites for same sex couples, and welcomed them into their religious groups and communities. Ivo Dominguez, Jr., an Elder of the Assembly of The Sacred Wheel, noted the irony of being able to officiate federally recognized wedding without be able to obtain one himself.
“In the decades that I’ve been a Wiccan priest, I have officiated many federally recognized weddings. My lover and I will have been together 35 years next February. I have always noted the irony of being able to perform such a service without ever being able to be the recipient of the same. Today’s Supreme Court decision finally makes this possible, and we will soon be married. However I will remain vigilant because every step forward also brings out those who wish to drag us backwards. My religion views all love as sacred, but some other religions have different perspectives on this matter. Neither my religious views nor their religious views should matter in the eyes of the law. However my beliefs as a Wiccan will encourage me to make choices to defend my rights and the rights of others. I am overjoyed, and I am also prepared for this to be the beginning of yet more decades of work towards a nation that sees the intrinsic value of all love and all beings.”
Michael Lloyd, co-founder of the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering and author of “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan,” who has performed same-sex marriages as a Gay Pagan priest, noted the historic inequality between different religious views of same-sex relationships as this debate has evolved.
“As I look back on the debate that has surrounded the struggle for marriage equality in this country, I am struck by how much deference has been paid to the beliefs of religious institutions which have a long history of antipathy toward the gay community, while for the most part ignoring the beliefs – and the rights – of those institutions which have recognized the innate humanity of LGBT people who wish to form loving, supportive families. [...] Leaders of these religious organizations certainly bear a responsibility for their own dogma and how they manipulate it to maintain control over their own followers. However, they have no right to impose those beliefs upon society as a whole. In matters of faith, we are each the master of our own soul. And for that reason, I am joyful that the SCOTUS has seen fit to allow those who have lawfully taken this most public of private steps to be recognized by their government. May we all be so free within my lifetime. So mote it be.”
This is just a sample of the flood of positive reactions from Pagan leaders, clergy, and activists on these rulings. Covenant of the Goddess (COG), released a statement saying that “today we celebrate with all of our LGBT members, their friends, families and communities as they take a huge step forward in their struggle for acceptance and freedom under the law.” Author and Priestess Crystal Blanton said that today’s decision “brought us all one step closer to true spirituality,” while Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary exclaimed: “May our society continue to work toward having Equality, Liberty, and Justice for All!” David Shorey, GLBT Liaison for the House of Danu, looked to the future saying that he celebrates the rulings today but knows “that Love knows no borders. I know that one day Gay and Lesbian couples will be able to declare their commitment and love in all 50 states.” For many Pagan clergy, the sentiments of Lisa Morgenstern seem to hold true.
“As the former Public Information Officer for COG, back when the first CA court decision was rendered legalizing gay marriage,I am thrilled to see DOMA struck down, and Prop 8’s suit dismissed. COG clergy have been performing same gender marriages since the inception of the organization, in 1976, as their consciences permit. As a member of The Troth who also performs Heathen weddings as well as Wiccan and Pagan ones, I believe that this step of legal recognition was long overdue. Right of survivorship is an important one, as well as the federal income tax benefit of filing jointly as a married couple. These benefits will apply to members of our military as well. The Troth does not discriminate against our gay members and never has. I have performed many same gender marriages and I look forward to resuming that joy in a legal capacity.”
Michele Morris, Distinctive Faith Group Leader for Fort Hood Open Circle, US Army Fort Hood, TX, noted how these decision will also affect same sex couples in a military setting, saying that for “most of the people that I work with it’s about the things that so many of us take for granted, like the right to be notified if your spouse is injured. To be able to be married in the faith and community of your choosing is something everyone should have access to and this decision will give pagan clergy the opportunity to grant that access to even more people.”
“Today’s Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8, while not as decisive and far-reaching as they could have been, are an important step in the decades-old movement to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples. Paganism has been at the forefront of that movement – many of us have performed religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples long before other religions started following suit. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but as of today, the writing on the wall is sharper and bolder than ever.” – Andras Corban Arthen, The EarthSpirit Community
In the long run, what this is about, and why so many Pagans support marriage equality is simple. As Mage and Chiromancer Jim Barker puts it, “by allowing marriage between two people of the same gender, I can actually call my domestic partner “husband.” When people ask if we are married, I can simply say, YES. I don’t need all kinds of funny explanations. And neither do my loved ones. They can just say we’re married.” Our community embraces multiplicity, it embraces difference and all manifestations of love. “Our diversity is our wealth,” says Chris Moore, and he’s not wrong.
There’s so much more to say here, and we’ll be doing follow-up posts. For now, I want to leave you with the words of Pagan author and activist Lydia M. N. Crabtree.
“I am struck at how yesterday the idea that there is discrimination against minority voters was scoffed at by the Supreme Court and today that same Court embraced the idea that the United States is discriminating against same sex marriage. It is almost as if we as a society do not have an ability to hold in our minds the prejudice of two groups at the same time. In both cases, these fights have been sent back to the state level – upholding the view that state rights is paramount. As a Southerner this disturbs me. I am all too familiar with what happens when States have control of making and governing minority groups. Things here in Georgia are unlikely to change for my friends who wish to marry whom they love regardless of gender. Just as I suspect that more voting laws will be attempted making voting more difficult for minority groups and redrawing district lines to keep Georgia a red state for as long as possible, given the fact that these practices of voter suppression have been on going. I do not think the United States people should breathe a sigh of relief. This Court clearly shows the great imbalance between the will of the people and the people who hold power. A clear reflection of the disparity of power between the will of the people and the Senate and Congress. Now isn’t the time to celebrate, it is the time to recognize two important thing. 1. Any minority discrimination is too much discrimination, whether the issue is around same-sex marriage or voting rights. 2. If the states retain the right to restrict minority groups indirectly, we should understand the dangerous precedent and remember the historic cost of state rights throughout history.”
Today we have a victory, but our collective work for justice continues. Let’s all keep standing for love.