Pagans and Prop. 8

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On Wednesday, California District Court judge Vaughn R. Walker issued a ruling that overturned California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriages within the state. Reaction from across the political and religious spectrum was swift, and many are seeing this as just a first step in a battle that’s heading straight for the United States Supreme Court. Modern Pagan faiths, many of which acknowledge and solemnize same-sex marriage rites, have been on the front lines of these battles. Indeed, while mainstream coverage over same-sex marriage has largely focused on various Christian attitudes, Pagan clergy from a number of different faiths and traditions have been performing same-sex rites across the United States, and in the case of Kathryn and Jeani Kyair, were themselves legally married in California before Prop. 8 won passage in 2008.

“We were hand-fasted on September 3, 2005.  Then we were “Domestic Partnered” on February 6, 2006.  Then we were legally married on July 4, 2008 (so the fireworks would always be for US!). When marriage became legal in California, Jeani and I were the 2nd couple issued a Marriage License in the County of Solano, just behind a gay couple who were getting married that day!”

Kathryn Kyair, a Gythja in the Asatru faith, who co-owns the The Red Raven Metaphysical Books and Supplies in Vallejo, CA with her wife Jeani, a Crone Hedge Witch, says that she was spurred into political action on the issue when the same-sex marriages authorized by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom were annulled by the California Supreme Court in 2004. While the Kyairs applaud the recent court decision, the experience of having their rights and legal status constantly called into question has been an emotional roller-coaster.

“Personally, we believe that Civil Unions, as the legal definition, for everyone in the U.S. is the best solution, while allowing for any couple, straight or gay, to seek spiritual clergy that best fits their beliefs, if they so choose. But, this society places “marriage” as a fundamental right.  We were all born with this right as U.S. citizens, only to have it taken from some of us when we come out of the proverbial closet.  This IS discrimination.  And discrimination is against the Constitution which protects us all!  The Constitution was created to protect everyone’s inalienable rights, especially from a majority.  This country allowed us to be born with these rights, then took some away, then gave them back, then took them away again, and now have given them back, sort of.  This is illegal.  Period.”

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.”

While some Christians have issued gloomy prognostications on a future with legalized gay marriage, or theorized as to the possible religious discrimination(s) that may be visited upon them, there has been little examination of the privileges the current status quo affords them, or the hurdles same-sex Pagan couples have to endure to ensure some sort of legal recognition for the rites of union freely performed within their communities. Michael York, author of “Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion”, shared his own experiences with this phenonenon in the comments here.

“As a pleased, same-sex married pagan, I can applaud Judge Walker’s decision as well. Of course, there will be appeals, etc., and the story has yet a long way to play out. After my partner and I had done a civil union in my hometown of New Jersey (my best friend from childhood who was then the town mayor being the officiator), my lawyer said that it “counts for nothing.” Even, he added, if we were to marry in Massachusetts or Connecticut, it would count for nothing – neither the Federal government nor most states would recognise it. But, he added, “if you were to marry in the Netherlands, I would be willing to go to court on your behalf.” The reason, he explained, is that the two countries have reciprocal marriage recognition. And so, that is what we did – married in Amsterdam. It has not come to the test yet – and may be unlikely that it will ever come to that, but every step is a step along the way. Freedom has to be the highest pagan goal and virtue. To advance that sacred cause of liberty, we often need to chip away at whatever obstacles there are. At some point, we will get there.”

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founder of the Ekklesía Antínoou, notes in a statement about the ruling, “Congress is not supposed to make any laws which establish any particular religion’s doctrines as the legal norm for the country”, yet this is the current state of things where same-sex unions are concerned in the minds of many Pagans. As T. Thorn Coyle bluntly puts it, “if we are to have nation states, we are to have citizens. If we are to have citizens, we must give each of those citizens rights equal to all other citizens. If that includes marriage, so be it. The right to marry must be had by all.”

As for Kathryn and Jeani Kyair, Pagan clergy and a legally married same-sex couple in California, they look forward to the expected Supreme Court challenge.

“Yes, frankly, we think it needs to go to the Supreme Court.  Just like the laws that changed the ban on inter-racial marriages had to go to the Supreme Court in 1965.  California had allowed inter-racial marriage in, I think, 1947.  It took nearly 20 years to make it to the Supreme Court, while the States fought against it in the trenches. The Supreme Court has the ability to take this passionate argument out of the issue and make it law that will end the fighting in all states.  It won’t stop hatred or peoples adverse opinions, but it will, hopefully, allow people to move on and communicate.”

It seems certain that many of their co-religionists within modern Paganism share that sentiment, and look forward to a day when there are equal rights and equal rites.

Note: Some of the organizations I contacted wanted to make a public statement, but they didn’t make it to me before this article went to press. As they are sent to me, I will update this post with links to their statements below. I’m also including previously-issued statements on gay marriage.

Covenant of the Goddess Supports Gay Marriage (Issued 2008)
Cherry Hill Seminary Responds to Same-Sex Marriage Debate (Issued 2009)
Starhawk: A Sacred Choice and a Civil Right (2008)