Archives For DOMA

What happens when one suburban county decides that it doesn’t like its state’s laws and openly defies them? 

It all began on June 26th when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) declared DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional in the case of The United States vs. Windsor. By that ruling, all legally married same-sex couples are now entitled to federal benefits. The key phrase here is “legally married.”  The U.S. federal government does not issue marriage licenses. That job falls to the states, many of which do not recognize same-sex marriage at all.

One of the these is Pennsylvania who, in 1996, was one of six states to adopt the proposed DOMA statutes which read:

“Marriage.” A civil contract by which one man and one woman take each other for husband and wife.  (Section 3304, Title 23, Part II, Chapter II, Section 1102)

But this Pennsylvania state law didn’t sit well with local Montgomery County officials who said we “want to come down on the right side of history.”  After the SCOTUS ruling, Montgomery County, the third largest county in Pennsylvania, began issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples in direct violation of the statute. To date, Montgomery County as issued over 115 licenses to same-sex couples.

Love_Park

One of these licenses was issued to Wiccan High Priestesses Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia of Innana’s Well of Philadelphia. The two women met in 2006 while attending Pagan classes in Atlanta. They have been sharing their lives ever since. When Montgomery County announced its intent, the couple jumped at the opportunity to finally enjoy the benefits of a legally binding marriage. Lady Emrys recalls:

Someone posted an article on Facebook about Montgomery County going “rogue.” My initial thought was that the state had probably already put a stop to it and we had likely missed our chance. I was thrilled to hear the following day that they continued to issue licenses to same-sex couples. A couple of days after that, when our schedules allowed, we went to the Clerk’s office and got our license. It was thrilling to say the least!

Register of Wills

D. Bruce Hanes, Registrar of Wills

The County Clerk and Registrar of Wills, D. Bruce Hanes, has now become somewhat of a local hero. He told the Associated Press that he “believes he has the authority to issue the licenses in part because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.” He reports that there has been a “steady influx of five to 10 couples a day and only polite demonstrations by either side.”

Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia commented how “deeply touched and appreciative” they are of Hanes and his staff.  He was polite, enthusiastic and even apologetic when explaining that the County marriage forms still ask for the names of a “husband” and “wife.” Unphased the couple remarked  “[We are] inspired and awed by [the staff’s] courage and willingness to take a stand against discrimination.”

They also thanked Attorney Robert Heim with Dechert law firm, who has taken up the case for the county.  What case?  The State of Pennsylvania is now suing Montgomery County for flagrant disobedience.  In late July, Governor Tom Corbett and the State’s Department of Health filed a petition with the courts to force Hanes to “cease and desist.”  On Monday, August 12th, they filed another brief to move forward with the suit.

In support of the Governor’s position, Pennsylvania lawmaker Daryl Metcalf said:

For a man to start violating the law as [Hanes] has and commit such a lawless act should be offensive to everyone, no matter what side of the issue you’re on. It doesn’t matter how many licenses he issues, they’re not worth the paper he’s printing them on.

Now, here’s where it becomes a bit more complicated.  On July 9th, the ACLU and ACLU of PA filed its own federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania for its discriminatory statutes on marriage. In a press release, the ACLU stated:

The plaintiffs come from across the commonwealth and from all walks of life… [They] reflect Pennsylvania’s rich diversity: they are African-American, Caucasian, Latino and Asian; they are Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Quaker, Jewish, Buddhist, and secular. Many have been together for decades, and some are raising children together. The situations faced by these couples are similar to those faced by the thousands of same-sex couples in Pennsylvania who are being denied the basic rights that are afforded by marriage.

That diversity also includes many Pagans like Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia. These two pending court cases will determine not only their legal fate as a couple but also affect their ability to perform legal marriages as Wiccan Clergy for other same-sex couples in the State. Lady Aradia said:

It’s my hope that Pagan clergy will be safe-havens for Pagan LGBT individuals and couples making life-changing commitments, just as they would for straight couples seeking spiritual guidance and counseling for marriage and starting families.

From Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia's Handfasting

From Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia’s Handfasting

To add more fuel to the fire, on July 11th, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane spoke out in defense of marriage equality saying that she would not support Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act in court.  In a press release, Kane said:

We have always stood strong in the face of discrimination, which in its various forms has never withstood the test of time…It is our duty, each and every one of us, to protect the constitutionality, to protect the rights and dignity of others, and to protect the equality of all men and women in this Commonwealth. 

So Pennsylvania’s saga continues with the Governor locking “horns” with the Attorney General as a rogue county official continues to issue same-sex marriage licenses in defiance of state law.  It is has been called “civil disobedience at its best.”

Lady Emrys believes the situation will only escalate. She said:

This is likely going to turn into a battle similar to Prop 8 in California. I, for one, am concerned about repercussions the Clerk and his staff may face because of their stand. I think everyone feels certain, however, that in the end marriage laws that exclude same-sex couples from the institution of marriage will be deleted. 

Lady Aradia, who works in Montgomery County, agreed and added:

When [marriage equality is] brought up, people are aware of [what is going on.] It seems as if the topic has been normalized… There’s an acceptance of this movement and more than anything, a sense of, “it’s about time.” 

A recent Franklin and Marshall Poll reflects her observations, reporting that 52% of the state population supports the elimination of Pennyslvania’s DOMA statutes with 8% undecided.

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.

For many Pagan LGBT members and those of similar minority religions, the elimination of these DOMA statutes has additional meaning. As noted by Lady Emrys:

What excites me most about this, aside from the joy of being legally joined with my partner, is that I see this as a step toward true religious freedom in this country. The exclusively heterosexual right to marriage has always been religious (primarily Christian), regardless of how the argument is packaged. The issuing of marriage licenses and certificates to same-sex couples frees people of the constraints of religions to which they do not subscribe, constraints which have no place in the United States.

Until these cases are settled, Lady Emrys and Lady Aradia ask that “ Pagans…throughout the U.S. surround Hanes and his staff with loving and protective energy so they can continue to perform their important work.”  To this day, Montgomery County is still issuing licenses. The ACLU’s case will be heard in a Federal court in Harrisburg on September 30th. The story has not yet been written and we will be watching for new developments.

As was widely reported yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down decisions in cases affecting DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in that state. Both rulings were broadly seen as victories for marriage equality (with the caveat that there is more still to do, and legal hurdles remain). In the immediate wake of the decisions being released I spotlighted several Pagan reactions to the rulings, but I received and read far more than that. So I would like to do another post today highlighting further reactions to these landmark decisions.

Yeshe Rabbit

Yeshe Rabbit

“The past 24 hours have been huge for personal sovereignty in America. Wendy Davis and the women of Texas took a stand and told the GOP, “Hands off my uterus,” and SCOTUS declared DOMA unconstitutional. I am rejoicing in these outcomes, along with many of my Pagan sisters and brothers, because these outcomes represent the triumph of free will in two highly-charged matters: women’s freedom of choice and marriage equality. I celebrate both of these decisions. And yet, it still troubles me that both of these high-level governmental decisions revolved around what takes place in the most private areas of our lives: our sexuality and reproduction. As if it is OK that these things are regulated in the first place. As if we should feel content to have won the right to determine what choices we make about our bodies at a fundamental level. As if we were not free and sovereign in our sexuality all along. As if the law could ever regulate the way one’s heart sings when one looks upon a beloved. May the wheels of change, now with greater momentum, spin faster toward a future of profound sovereignty in our sexual bodies, in our heart’s loving desires, beyond even what this moment of celebration can provide.”Lady Yeshe Rabbit, CAYA Coven

Cherry Hill Seminary's Holli Emore

Holli Emore, Executive Director, Cherry Hill Seminary

“A long twilight of injustice finally sees the light of reason and clear conscience!  That I lived to see this day, after well over 25 years of marching, speaking, contributing, showing up at rallies and challenging narrow minds – this is a day to celebrate and remember and tell to the generations to come.  To those who are cynical or anti-government – this is the American way at its finest, the beauty of justice, the possibility of admitting wrong and making it right.”  - Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary

Diana Paxson

Diana Paxson

“In the Germanic countries in pre-Christian times, although the gods would be asked to bless the union (as they did every other rite of passage), marriage was a social contract between two individuals or more properly, between their families, that changed their status and relationship to the community as well as to each other. Since same-sex couples are as capable of forming long-term relationships, raising children, and functioning as a household in a community as hetero-sexual couples are, they ought to have the same legal status and protections. The Troth has always supported equality, and our clergy have officiated at many same-sex weddings (where legal), and hand-fastings (where not legal yet).”Diana L. Paxson, Elder, Clergy Coordinator, The Troth

Lord Blackcat

Lord Blackcat

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA is an important victory on the expansion of freedom for all people and pagans in particular. Since the 1990′s, there has been a well documented effort by certain conservative Christian groups to shape American law in accordance with their philosophical and religious views. Opponents of marriage equality repeatedly cite Judeo-Christian reference as a basis for the legal definition of marriage. As pagans, most of us have long recognized our deities as transcending culturally based gender roles.  Most pagans have similarly embraced all aspects of consensual adult love as inherent rights.  Today’s recognition that diverse members of society are Constitutionally entitled to equal access under the law sets an important precedent.  Mob-mentally, majority rule does not trump individual liberty.  It is this individual liberty that allows for minority religions, such as make up most pagan practice, to openly exist.  Whatever one’s politics, religion, or sexual orientation, everyone should celebrate this recognition that religious views of a majority cannot and should not be permitted to squash the diversity which is the basis of life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness, guaranteed by our US Constitution.”Lord Blackcat, HP, Sylvan Grove, Seattle WA

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

“As a Pagan I am thrilled by both rulings. “All acts of love and pleasure” are the rituals of the Gods. I personally feel that the government should have no say in whether legal consenting adults get married, regardless of their sex or sexual identity. Marriage in this context is a religious institution. How politicos view marriage is as a legal contract. If you are going to view marriage as a legal contract, then any two consenting adults should be able to enter into such a contract. I am a legally ordained and recognized minister in the state of Nebraska, and many other states that recognize my ordination. I have been asked many times to do weddings and handfastings. I’ve not had the joy or the privilege to perform a same-sex ceremony. I have been asked, but things changed in the lives of the couples and the unions did not take place. If I were asked today to go to one of the 12 (soon to be 13) states that have legal same-sex marriage (and the District of Columbia) to perform such a glorious union, I would gladly do so. If I were asked today to do a same-sex handfasting or other such ceremony in any of the 50 states or anywhere else in the world, I would gladly do so. I am now and always have been of the firm opinion that all adults have the right to love who they want and how they want as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others or place themselves or others at risk of undue harm. There is still a long uphill battle in the United States for marriage equality. The provision of DOMA that allows states without same-sex marriage to ignore the validity of a same-sex marriage from a state that does still stands. SCOTUS declared Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional. The rest of DOMA still stands, which means that each state still has the right to define marriage according to its voters or law makers.”Rev. Philipp J. Kessler, Co-founder and Nebraska Facilitator of the Pagan Alliance Network

Fire Lyte

Fire Lyte

“We’re hoping that our federal government will get a majority of its House and Senate to enact a federal law giving sweeping marriage equality nationwide. DOMA doesn’t give us that. Prop 8 doesn’t give us that. And there isn’t anything in the United States Constitution to challenge in a judicial setting. It is possible that the President could give an Executive Order attempting to force the issue, but this would likely get overturned in Congress, since it’s been found in the past that an Executive Order cannot be used to create law, but rather to clarify or enforce current law. Though, in this Rioter’s opinion, if an Executive Order can be used to go to war, it should be able to be used to give equal marriage rights. But, it’s not like the President doesn’t have enough on his plate right now. And that’s where we stand, folks. There is a lot to celebrate today, but the war is nowhere close to over. And, for folks like me in states where gay marriage still isn’t recognized, today is just another day. I can’t rush out and marry my Partner. I can’t file my 2013 tax return jointly. I can’t receive one of the over 1000 legal rights only married couples receive. I’m just Partner’s roommate for most legal purposes. Bittersweet, definition of.”Fire Lyte, Inciting A Riot podcast

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down both the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. To me, this time, the legal system stood for love and justice. I’ve said before that we ought not to give one set of citizens rights that another set does not have. If we are to have laws, they must be equitable. That said, I think government should get out of the marriage business. I also recognize that my own relationships are much larger and more fluid than this sort of marriage can encompass. Yes, I came out about this last time we were discussing DOMA.  Today the Supreme Court decided in favor of equity and love. Yesterday, the Supreme Court did the opposite. Yesterday, the Supreme Court gutted the Voters Rights Act, an action which threatens to disenfranchise many people who still need the support of things like district elections in order to give themselves a proper voice in a political system stacked toward the privileged. That does not sound like justice. Nor does it sound like love. It sounds like a further separation of us from one another.”T. Thorn Coyle, Solar Cross Temple

Teo Bishop

Teo Bishop

“When I say that this is a small step toward equal treatment under the law, I’m not just talking about us queers here. I’m also talking about moving toward a place of greater gender equality, too. Our society is built within a binary gender paradigm which favors one gender over the other. In many ways, the LGBT rights movement threatens that very paradigm, because jumping on board the gay train requires you to suspend all of your “normal” assumptions about gender roles in relationship. Do that, and you start seeing imbalance and injustice nearly every place you look. LGBT rights are like a gateway drug in that way. Start supporting the homos, and before long you’ll end up a complete social justice activist. (I’ve seen it happen.) It’s good to remind people who may think of LGBT rights as a “fringe issue” that today’s ruling fits into a much larger discussion about personal liberty and equality — two principles which can, with enough political firepower, be jeopardized for even the most mainstream among us. Even hetero-normative folks need to be on the lookout. But not today. Today is a day worth celebrating. I believe that equality is a Pagan value, and equality was upheld today.”Teo Bishop, Bishop In The Grove

I have no doubt there are even more thoughts and responses out there that I have missed. Have you weighed in? Please let me know in the comments. The DOMA and Prop 8 rulings were just one of several major rulings made this term, and I’m also hoping to explore the changes to the Voting Rights Act from a Pagan perspective soon. For now, I’m content to celebrate this step forward for equality. Have a great day!

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.

We likely won’t know until June what the outcomes of the oral arguments at the Supreme Court over California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will be, but it does seem clear that a threshold has been crossed. No matter how narrow (or broad) the decisions will ultimately be regarding the rights of same-sex couples in the United States, many will look to 2013 (and the November 2012 elections) as a time when a cultural corner was turned. When marriage equality was now backed by a majority of Americans, when politicians quickly issue statements to be on the right side of history, and when culturally conservative opponents of same-sex marriage are collapsing.

“In 2004, the campaign to prevent gay marriage was in its heyday. The Bush administration had seeded an initiative banning gay marriage in Ohio to mobilize activists and peel off traditionalist Democratic voters. Democrats nationally were running for cover, and even Howard Dean’s pro-civil-unions stance appeared risky. Now the movement is in a state of total collapse, with every day seeming to bring new converts to the gay-marriage cause and the opposition losing all of its courage.”

For many years Pagans have been on the forefront of the marriage equality debate. As a decentralized movement, one that recognizes many different sources of authority and tradition, we have long accepted that same-sex rites (and rights) were a part of our larger tapestry. As thousands gathered in Washington DC to be a part of history of the making, modern Pagans were there too, adding our voices, our support, to the growing movement for full equality.

Pagans in Washington DC, including Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and PNC reporter/author David Salisbury performing a rite for freedom and justice.

Pagans in Washington DC, including Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and PNC reporter/author David Salisbury performing a rite for freedom and justice.

“On March 26th and 27th, two of the most historic cases to ever be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States will begin. One case would overturn Proposition 8, which years ago banned marriage equality for all same-sex California citizens. The second trial would overturn DOMA (the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act”). Depending on how the SCOTUS rules, both of these trials could have major nation-wide effects that would change the course of our movement forever. People from all over the country will be arriving here in the District to rally at the trial on Tuesday. A crew of people (including me) will be sleeping outside on the sidewalk of the Supreme Court on Monday night before the rally on Tuesday. That night I will facilitate a ritual calling upon the guardian Goddess of DC and of the United States, Columbia. We will ask Columbia to bring the sword of victory to our work, leading us in the march to freedom and justice. Before the Tuesday rally, I’ll attend an interfaith service with some of my of my coreligionists and people of other faiths. Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary will be speaking at the service to give a voice from the Pagan perspective. This is all a very big deal.”

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary also took part in a National Interfaith Service, where she and clergy from several other faiths blessed more than 30 same-sex couples.

As we get closer to decisions in these cases I plan to showcase Pagan voices on this issue, including national Pagan organizations, activists on the ground, and the experiences of Pagan same-sex couples. Until then, here’s a selection of past coverage The Wild Hunt has done on marriage equality, which includes many important Pagan voices weighing in on the subject.

DOMA Ruling and Pagan Marriage Rites (October 2012)

“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.”

Christianity and Marriage Equality (May 2012)

“As a non-Christian I have become increasingly frustrated with the game of theological and political ”hot potato” when it comes to this issue. It’s always “those” Christians over there, not the “good” Christians who are “evolving” on the issue. When the Catholic Pope calls for a grand anti-gay-marriage religious coalition, when our country’s most popular Evangelical leader defends himself from the mere perception of tolerance, you simply can’t pretend that opposition to the basic humanity of LGBTQ individuals is some extremist fringe living in the wilderness. The real, unfortunate, truth is that Christianity is working against the lives of gay men and women, save for a small percentage who have broken away.”

On Faith: Is there a marriage crisis in America today? (December 2010)

“It’s telling that the “solution” provided by many to the marriage problem is to roll back freedoms, and enshrine a trapped-in-amber definition of marriage that is as much an artificial construction as any now criticized by the culture warriors. Just as many “traditional marriage” proponents would blanch at the thought of returning marriage to a time of dowries, land transference, political alliances, and women-as-bargaining-chip; so too do young people today recoil at the thought of marriage being limited to the “proper” genders, a vehicle for reproduction, social stability, and maintaining an illusory status quo. A return to a time when private detectives where required to extricate oneself from an unhappy union, and domestic abuses were glossed over for the sake of social order.”

Pagans and Prop. 8 (August 2012)

“Within modern Pagan communities same-sex marriage is almost wholly uncontroversial. Shortly after Walker’s ruling was handed down, several Pagan organizations and noted figures within the movement reaffirmed their commitment to same-sex marriages and praised the decision. Druid group Ar nDriaocht Fein (ADF) said in a statement they “warmly welcome the decision of the court”, and that their organization has “never believed that the institution of marriage could possibly be threatened by the existence of married people of any gender”. T. Thorn Coyle of Solar Cross Temple and Morningstar Mystery School, speaking to those now recoiling from Prop. 8′s overturn, noted that“we are not trying to change your religious beliefs. We are only saying that we have the same civil rights as you do.” Holli Emore of Osireion and the Pagan Round Table said in a message to The Wild Hunt that we are “living in the last days of the kind of bigotry that would presume to dictate such matters, in my opinion.”

For even more, check out the “LGBTQ” and “marriage” tag categories. You may also be interested in my coverage of Cascadian “nones” in Washington and how they voted for marriage equality.

Here’s to freedom, here’s to love, here’s to equal rights (and rites) for everyone. More on this topic in the coming weeks.

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.

[Don't forget, we're in the midst of The Wild Hunt's Fall Fund Drive! If you want to support this service, please help spread the word, or make a donation today! Thanks to everyone who has donated already!]

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.