“I celebrate the California Supreme Court decision. It’s just, and it affirms an even deeper principle: that civil rights belong to everyone, not just those groups whose behavior meets popular approval. That principle protects us all.” – Starhawk, “A Sacred Choice and a Civil Right”
In the wake of California’s decision to allow gay marriage (at least until a proposed Constitutional amendment gets voted on), many from the theological right have been wondering about their “rights” and their “voice” in a world where gay marriage is allowed. A position given much sympathy by the Get Religion blog, who has devoted several posts empathizing with the poor, marginalized, anti-gay marriage religious traditions.
“What are the rights, in terms of free speech and religious liberty, of the people and voluntary associations who continue to hold traditional Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc., doctrines on the moral status of sex outside the state of marriage, as traditionally defined?”
“Traditionally” here means “between one man and one woman”. This situation is a perfect example of how religious conservatives define “religious liberty” differently than just about everyone else. For while Catholics, Muslims, and other religious groups opposed to gay marriage are raising forth the specter of being “forced” to marry gays (a virtual impossibility), or having to treat homosexuals equally in their social services (a somewhat more likely scenario), these same groups have never cared a whit for the “religious liberties” of Pagans and other religious groups who have collectively supported gay marriage for decades.
“We respect the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to speak in a public forum about this, but it has come to a point where their advocacy about same-sex marriage has come to impinge on our own religious practices, because not everyone believes same-sex marriage is wrong or sinful or against religious beliefs…” – Rev. Tiffany Steinwert, a United Methodist minister, and pastor of Cambridge Welcoming Ministries
The fact is that many Pagan clergy, from an assortment of traditions, have been solemnizing gay marriages for years now. Yet their definition of a real and sacred set of vows hasn’t been acknowledged as valid by the law. We have been told, in essence, that our marriage ceremonies “don’t count” in a civil, legal, sense. Instead, a Biblically-justified standard of civil marriage has been maintained (often to the detriment of religious minorities), a standard that many Pagans don’t see as a valid. Yet, the “defenders of marriage” and religious liberty have never come to our defense.
“In Paganism, there is no sense of a norm in terms of a handfasted relationship. While the Church, and others keen to hold to a status quo, have been fearing for the future of marriage and the family with gay weddings and extended legal rights for couples cohabiting, the Pagan perspective is quite different. Tribe and family are of paramount importance, yet far more worrying that the increase in ‘different’ household arrangements is the ongoing decline in people’s ability to craft intimate relationships at all.” – Emma Restall Orr, “Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics”
So I must admit to feeling unmoved by the cries of religious conservatives afraid that a world of gay marriage and gay social equality will be thrust upon them. Their rigidity in refusing to dismantle the last entanglements of church and state in America (in this case, marriage laws) have created an edifice worn with cracks, slowly crumbling around the edges. In its place will be a land where a single religious tradition doesn’t get to define the social contracts and moral choices of those outside its natural purview. A place where Pagans will be treated with real religious liberty, not liberty as defined by the dominant monotheisms.