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I’m religious – but my views on marriage equality aren’t

I am often perplexed when people ask me what I think, as a Pagan, about civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.

To be fair, I understand where the question comes from. So much of the opposition to the recognition of the rights of LGBTQ people in the United States seems to have a religious dimension. Faith-based lobbying groups have been such a loud and visible force since their broad emergence in the 1980s, that the prevailing notion seems to be that one’s faith comes with a ready guide to approved public policy.

This strikes me as problematic for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which being that this is not particularly good behavior in a system which only functions well when Church and State are separate. Faith is a matter of individual choice and conscience; law binds us all.

While our faiths may inform our attitudes regarding what we personally see as desirable or forbidden, it’s necessary to recognize when those same attitudes are not universal, and to legislate accordingly. Holding others accountable to belief systems that don’t apply to them is neither reasonable nor sensible. This is why I don’t have a religious view on civil marriage for same-sex partners. The tenets of my faith, my church’s position and what I think marriage is as a Pagan polytheist should have zero bearing on what is legally permissible.

What I believe to be spiritually wholesome or unwholesome does not apply to the Christian on the bus next to me, the Muslim in my office or the atheist serving coffee at my favorite café. It applies to me, and it’s my responsibility to do my own work instead of telling others how to do theirs. Likewise, I don’t have to observe the Sabbath, keep halal or stop believing in things I can’t empirically prove because we happen to share a city.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opinion about marriage equality. I do.

I think Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings striking down Section 3 of DOMA and declaring that the petitioners supporting Proposition 8 in California did not have standing both represent welcome progress. Current law is often discriminatory, and leaves LGBTQ persons without many rights and a lot of the dignity that cisgender and heterosexual persons enjoy. As a human being, a citizen, and a taxpayer, I can’t think of a compelling reason not to treat someone equally under the law on the basis of sexual orientation.

I don’t think this because I’m Pagan. I think this because I stayed awake in civics and history, and so I know our legal system was founded on the premise that equality under the law is a reasonable thing to expect, and free association is a fundamental human right. Civil marriage is a civil right, and religion doesn’t get to decide how civil rights work.

So what about religious marriage? 

Well, that’s up to the churches themselves. Clergy of all paths – including Pagan ones – agree or decline to marry couples for any number of reasons, and their right to do so is protected under law. This won’t change just because we open up the courthouse to same-sex couples, though it may allow us to do the paperwork for a few more. After all, many paths have been blessing same-sex couples for decades regardless of whether these partnerships are recognized by law.

The church to which I belong, Ár nDraíocht Féin, is one of these. As our leadership stated back in March when hearings for Proposition 8 and DOMA got into swing, “We support not only our LGBTQ members, but all of our members, in knowing that they stand equally before the Gods and Spirits, in fellowship with each other and in equal reciprocity with us all.”

Whether this is congruent with your spirituality or the views of your church is your own affair.  In the civil sphere, though, I’d say it’s time to make room.

Ci Cyfarth is the Grove Organizer for White Hawthorn Protogrove, a druid congregation in Columbia, MO.

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.

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