Pagan Community Reacts to Historic SCOTUS Rulings on Same-Sex Marriage

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 26, 2013 — 27 Comments

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.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March of this year.

“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.”

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

“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.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

“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.

Lisa Cowley Morgenstern

Lisa Cowley Morgenstern

“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.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. 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.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Ember1

    It is important to note that only PART of DOMA was struck down. There are some very important questions regarding how this is going to be implemented that will shape up over the next little while. Papers in my area are already quoting Utah leaders as saying it will not change anything in Utah, that Utah is still able to disregard marriages from elsewhere. It is not clear if someone who is married in a state where it is legal will be able to receive FEDERAL benefits in a state where it is not legal or is even banned and only be denied state benefits, or if by moving to such a state their marriage will be nullified (and if so, if they then move back to a legal state, are they magically married again? If they separate and one moves back, is that one married and the other partner not? If on vacation and there is an accident, will the hospital recognize the spouse?)

    There are some big things yet to happen from this. Section 2 of DOMA is the next problem. Will Full Faith and Credit win? (Article IV, Section I, US Constitution)

    • You beat me to saying the same thing. Every news outlet has been reporting that DOMA was struck down/declared unconstitutional etc, but, as you say, it was only Section 3 that was. Section 2, which says that states do not have to recognize same-sex marriage from other states, still stands.

      • Ember1

        I believe it is because the implications for that will take some time to be worked out. There are different ways states and the federal government can deal with this mess (legal here, not legal there) and what they do actually do will determine a lot.

        I suspect Article 2 will fall too, but it is waiting for a case that makes that point to come before the courts.

    • Thank you for clarifying this–NONE of the coverage I read today said a thing about only part of DOMA being struck down. I hope ALL of DOMA will be found to deny the Equal Coverage clause.

  • Piper

    The Prop 8 decision, while feking awesome, will cause
    some problems in the long run. It said that the citizens of a state do not have
    standing to go to court when the elected officials of the state decline to do
    so. To flip it, the citizens of utopia pass a religious freedom bill. A large
    group of people go to court to get it over turned, and the state (AG etc.)
    refuse to defend it. This decision means the people of the state cannot bring
    suit to defend that law.

    That dangerous to everyone as it can give a few elected officials the power
    to over set the will of the people. In this case we celebrate, but I for one
    wish they had just found the proposition unconstitutional and left it there.
    We must be constantly aware

    • Is it not that citizens of a state do not have standing to contest a state law or statute in court, when elected officials, deemed to have standing, refuse/decline to defend said law or statute **when said citizens cannot prove explicit damages having been done to them** by the existence of this law or statute?

      If they cannot show actual damages that have already occurred because of such a law or statute, they have absolutely no standing. I would think that if they cannot argue actual future damage only, they couldn’t use that argument, either, provided such an argument can be used in court.

      • Deborah Bender

        I believe that’s correct. Chucking out suits on the basis of standing is something that courts often do. I regret that SCOTUS used that reasoning in the Prop 8 case. Citizens have a proper interest in laws that set public policy, regardless of whether the law affects them directly. Initiatives are a major part of California politics and self government.

        This decision may have grave effects on environmental laws passed by initiative, because every such law will be opposed by somebody, and trees have no standing to litigate on their own behalf.

        If the California Supreme Court had invalidated the recent initiative providing additional funding for public schools, and we happened to have an anti-tax governor, the parents of students would have standing to defend the initiative. But what if the CA court had invalidated the initiative that prohibited hunting of mountain lions, and the governor of California decided not to defend against a suit by hunters? Who would have standing to defend it? The mountain lions have no standing, and conservation organizations would have a hard time proving that they were personally harmed.

        • Rhoanna

          The Supreme Court’s finding wasn’t quite that broad, though. If I read it correctly, they only found that the sponsors of Prop 8 didn’t have standing to appeal; they didn’t rule on whether they had standing to intervene in the initial lawsuit, and seemed to indicate that they did have standing for that. The court also noted that the backers had standing under California law, but that that didn’t necessarily give them standing to appeal in federal court. (Although it sounded like if state law considered them “agents of the people” or some similar wording, they might be able to get standing to appeal in federal court.)

          So there are some avenues open for interested parties to intervene, just not by appealing in federal court.

          • Deborah Bender

            Good points. There’s an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle about the implications of the decision for the initiative process in California. It mentions several possible ways that California initiative law could be tweaked to strengthen the right to federal appeal in comparable situations. One possibility would be to state explicitly that the sponsors of an initiative have standing to defend it in any court.

            There’s general agreement that this kind of thing will be a rare occurrence. However, I think it should not occur at all. It undercuts direct democracy wherever popular reform has put it in place, and causes the losing side in an appeal to feel not only aggrieved but steamrollered, which is not good for respect for the rule of law.

  • The Bony Man

    Despite any possible issues of only partially struck down, it’s still a triumph. Dancing is encouraged!

  • It’s a crappy day for Conservatives in this country…and that’s a great thing!

    • HRM

      Not all Conservatives oppose same-sex marriage.

      • Then they don’t understand what the word “Conservative” means…

        • Deborah Bender

          Au contraire. There’s a conservative argument that the state should encourage private citizens to form families and look after each other, and some conservatives have made it.

          • You misunderstand. It IS the “Conservative” position to oppose same-sex marriage. If one does not hold Conservative positions, then one is not a “Conservative.”

          • Katherine de la Haye

            Are you a conservative? Are you pagan? You can’t be both.

          • That’s actually my point, Katherine.

            I think my original post shows that I am not a “Conservative”. 🙂 “Conservatism”, at least in the USA, is indistinguishable and inseparable from Christianity. Opposition to same-sex marriage is a Judeo-Christian position, and any “pagan” taking that position is no better than a Jewish Klansman, and I have no respect for such people.

            Often, these wanna-be “Conservative Pagans” try to “reconcile” their alleged “Conservative-ness” by saying, “But I’m for LGBT Rights and against Christo-Fascism too!”, but that’s like saying, “I’m a Liberal…but I’m against LGBT Rights and I want the government to force Christianity on everyone!”

            It’s cognitive dissonance and an ignorance of the basic concepts of Political Science and History, and usually a result of listening to OTHER ignorant morons on Conservative talk-radio (most of whom have no education beyond a high school diploma, and should not be “educating” people on ANYTHING), who have been promoting this absurd claim that “Conservatism=Small Government”, when that is not, and never has been, any aspect of Conservatism, either in the US or anywhere else in the world.

            One can be “Libertarian” and Pagan, as Libertarianism (in the US) is the idea of being Socially Liberal and Fiscally Conservative (essentially “Small Gov’t” on all issues). On the other hand, Conservatives are extremely Authoritarian and “Big Government” on social issues like marriage, Christianity, abortion, etc.

            People who claim to be “Conservative Pagans” should be ridiculed and not treated with even an iota of respect. Period.

            (FTR: I just realized that Disqus has determined that now that I post on FB under my real name…my Disqus comments are now listed under it? I’ve posted here for years under my pen-name, “Bryon Morrigan”.)

          • Katherine de la Haye

            Well, I was bound to ask because I do know some people who have conservative views yet who are pagans.

            Yet one of the problems I have is this: many pagans will tell me (for example) that if I am pagan, I cannot support the 2nd Amendment. I believe the 2nd Amendment renders unto American citizens the right to keep and bear arms, even if they are *not* part of a militia. Some of them might tell me I should also not be supportive of the troops, yet I am married to a military veteran. Who is the arbiter of pagan values and dictates what we can or cannot believe as pagans about that sort of thing? Is there now some pagan pope I did not know about?

          • kenofken

            Actually I have yet to meet a pagan who does not support the 2nd Amendment, which is not the same thing as supporting the NRA.

            Nor have I met or seen any community which is more supportive and honoring of veterans than pagans. In every direction I turn, local, regional and national, I see excellent work being done to advocate for active and former military, to minister to their spiritual needs, and to include them in places of honor at our events.

            That’s what it means to be “supportive of the troops.” Unfortunately, modern political conservatives try to hijack the concept to say that you’re not supporting the troops unless you reflexively support whatever moronic imperial war they’ve contrived as surrogate manhood (essentially none of them ever served).

          • Deborah Bender

            Why not?

          • Deborah Bender

            You seem to think that all conservatives think alike on a given issue. This is not the case. To name one example, David Frum, a conservative blogger who was a speechwriter for Bush the Younger, supports marriage equality.

            Conservativism is a political philosophy, not just a set of opinions on particular issues. Any philosophy that has some depth may lead people to differing opinions on how to apply the philosophy in a specific case. Liberals have internal disagreements and so do conservatives.

            One can be a conservative and support marriage equality on the basis of states’ rights, the right of privacy, separation of church and state, the benefits to public health and morality of encouraging people to be faithful to a single sexual partner, or the interest of society in supporting family formation. Or one may be conservative and support marriage equality on the basis that there is no rational objection to it, only prejudice.

            Many conservatives hold these opinions. People don’t hear from them much because they mostly make their arguments to other conservatives, and because the Christian Right is the dominant force in Republican Party politics right now.

            I suspect that you don’t read or listen to enough conservative magazine writers, bloggers or cable commentators to know that Rush Limbaugh, popular though he is, does not represent the views of all conservatives.

          • You said one thing that was correct: “Conservativism is a political philosophy”.

            Yes, it is the political philosophy of being adverse to change, and supporting the maintenance of existing, traditional social structures.

            Of course, in American, “existing, traditional social structures” means “CHRISTIANITY”. You even acknowledge that, “…the Christian Right is the dominant force in Republican Party politics right now”.

            Furthermore, when you follow it up with, “…not just a set of opinions on particular issues”, I have to wonder again if you understand anything about what these political definitions mean. “Conservatism” is a philosophy of holding “Conservative” opinions. The “Conservative” position on marriage equality is 100% opposition, whereas the Liberal and Libertarian positions are in favor of it. It is theoretically possible to be a “Conservative” who supports marriage equality, but that would mean that this alleged “Conservative” holds a NON-Conservative (and in this case, “Liberal/Libertarian”) position on the subject. It does not magically “convert” the position to a Conservative one, nor does it mean that it is the “true” Conservative position.

            You say things like: “One can be a conservative and support marriage equality on the basis of states’ rights, the right of privacy, separation of church and state, the benefits to public health and morality of encouraging people to be faithful to a single sexual partner, or the interest of society in supporting family formation. Or one may be conservative and support marriage equality on the basis that there is no rational objection to it, only prejudice.”

            And I respond by asking, “Where is your alleged Conservatism?” Like I said before, if I were to claim to be a “Liberal”, and then say that I actually take the Conservative position on X, Y, and Z…How “Liberal” can I be? Why would I be so “attached” to the word “Liberal” that I would hold on to it, even though it obviously wouldn’t describe my actual political beliefs?

            There are many Leftists who are in favor of the 2nd Amendment, but that does not translate into the position suddenly becoming a “Left-Wing” one. It is a Conservative/Libertarian position, regardless of who holds the opinion. But still, at heart, these Lefties are still essentially Left-Wingers. They are 99% Left, with just one divergence. Nobody would call them a “Conservative” for holding one contrary opinion. (A lot of Anarchists fit this definition, BTW.)

            But if one says, “Look, I’m in favor of Separation of Church and State, LGBT Rights, Non-Christian Rights, etc., but I’m still a Conservative”, then it makes no sense whatsoever. Again, it’s like saying, “I’m a Nazi…but I totally love Jews and hate uniforms!” In order to actually claim affiliation with a political identity, you have to…you know…actually agree with this identity on most of the issues.

            What this is really about…is “identification” with what one perceives to be the “cool crowd”. They perceive the Left as a “bunch of hippies”, and want to identify with the strong image of the Conservatives…kinda like how some people who have been bullied in high school begin to try to be “liked” by their bullies. It’s a yearning for power and acceptance, not an actual belief in those ideals…because the ideals are rooted in Christianity and opposition to Paganism.

            The best way to understand politics (and why the “small/big gov’t theory is ridiculous) is to use the Nolan Chart’s Libertarian/Authoritarian spectrum. Using this spectrum, you have the following general definitions (for American politics):

            LIBERAL: Social Libertarian/Economic Authoritarian
            CONSERVATIVE: Social Authoritarian/Economic Libertarian
            LIBERTARIAN: Social Libertarian/Economic Libertarian
            FASCIST: Social Authoritarian/Economic Authoritarian

            Oh, and using David Frum as an example of a “Conservative” is disingenuous, as he is often excoriated in the Conservative press as a “RINO”. What’s next? Rand Paul as the archetypal “Libertarian”? LOL.

            I can respect Pagan Liberals, Anarchists, Libertarians, Socialists, Communists, or even Monarchists. But “Pagan Conservatives”? They exist purely to be ridiculed, and deservedly so. A much better descriptor of such people is “Quisling” or “Vichyste”

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Both opinions are really interesting. We law geeks will be parsing these for years. The discussion of standing in the Prop. 8 case is quite interesting, esp. in light of the concerns of the Pagan community over the 9th Circuit case that dismissed Pagan prison clergy appeals on standing grounds.

    What’s fascinating to me was that the impact, and this was clear from the oral argument, that the law has on children was most important in Kennedy’s mind, and the briefs were all written for Justice Kennedy.

    In the end, as of today for the federal government, love is the law, love under will.

    • In an Alaskam newspaper today, a story appeared about the same-sex couple with four foster kids who turned Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s head around on same-sex marriage, leading Murkowski last week to become the third Republican senator to come out publicly in favor of marriage equality. Good story.

      Worth reading. I believe that most people, who claim no strong religious objections to equal marriage, have little acquaintance with gay families, or simply no empathy at all. Sen. Mukkowski’s shown that she, like Justice Kennedy, has empathy.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I’d agree with your last paragraph. I am pretty convinced that most people simply don’t care what other people do to each other (in bed).

        It is not really that important, in everyday life (for most people).

  • Franklin_Evans

    Ember’s caution cannot be overstated: The regulatory interactions (ahem, polite wording) are a morass of arbitrary complexities and outright contradictions that are just too expensive in legal costs to challenge. My prior career dealt strictly with tax laws and regulations, and that morass and my declining sanity were why I abandoned it.

    Congress is a force of nature, much like a jet stream or high mountain range. It acts (seemingly) slowly, but its power reaches into millions of lives. There is magic to counter it, and that is a commitment to invest our will and energy into the political processes from the smallest locale up to every federal office. The vote is the essential expression of our will. Find ways to use it even in the face of too often horrific choices. It won’t be easy, but then nothing really worth it ever is.

    • “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” ― Mae West

      I sign petitions of all kinds, including those looking to put measures on ballots. I write my legislators regularly.

      I vote, and I took my son with me to the polls nearly every time until he was about 10. He also sees me signing petitions outside of stores. *He* started noticing political issues at about 7, and he would ask questions and take part in political discussions at home. He registered in time to vote in the 2008 elections, within a month of turning 18.