How Same-Sex Marriage Is Impacting Religious Freedom

The Fight For Recognition –

In the battle for Gay and Lesbian rights, conservative groups have opened a can of worms for the fight of religious freedom in America. Only I don’t think they know they’ve done that. Gay and Lesbian couples are fighting for the same legal privileges afforded opposite-sex unions to ensure hospital visitation or inheritance or other traditional union privileges.

The opposition has centered the fight around preserving the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. Conservatives have taken a position that allowing same sex marriage threatens traditional marriage, and will somehow limit their rights. Only there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. But in this claim, these ultra conservatives bring up Biblical doctrine, opening the door for arguments of religious freedom.

There are many religious organizations who do honor and acknowledge the love and commitment between same sex couples. Clergy within these organizations will gladly perform their religious rights of marriage for these unions just as they would for opposite sex couples. Once the religious ceremony has ended, both the Clergy and the newly married couple are then told, that their spiritual and religious freedoms are not legally recognized by the state they are located in. The government agency, nor the conservative opposition take these religious freedoms into consideration. Or perhaps they do and it only adds fuel to their fire to burn away the rights of others who do not believe and practice as they do.

This is something that hits close to home with me. My first Handfasting ceremony was performed for a lesbian couple who are dear friends of mine. However, even though I am licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia to perform legal marriage ceremonies, this one could not be legally recognized. The lack of legal recognition does not make the rite any less blessed or valid in the eyes of our pagan community. But it does impact our rights of religious freedom and that in turn complicates the argument of same sex marriage specifically.

Had I performed this rite with an opposite sex couple, I could have submitted the necessary paperwork to the county and the couple would have received a legal marriage license. But this isn’t a case of who’s paperwork is accepted. Proponents would say our legal rights are recognized because the opposite sex couple would receive the legal document binding their union. But providing legal rights to only half of a persons spiritual practice is still a limitation on that persons right to Freedom of Religion. My religion and specifically my tradition/denomination recognizes the union of same sex couples to marry. This is a spiritual belief and a religious rite that deserves the same recognition as it’s opposite sex rite does.

The U.S. Constitution states:
Amendment 1 – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The pesky part of this amendment lies in “the free exercise thereof”. By their very efforts to stand on a position of morality, they have effectively turned this argument from a social practice to a religious one. By setting laws that refuse to recognize a practice of belief and religious rite of marriage between same sex couples, many state governments are breaking the U.S. Constitution and prohibiting the 1st Amendment rights of religious peoples to exercise those beliefs they hold dear.

The government is saying you can legally practice this part of your beliefs, but this part…well we’re not going to recognize that exercise within your faith. Sorry, but no that’s not legal. The Constitution does not afford the government the right to pick and choose which religious practices it will acknowledge and which it won’t. By not allowing this practice which is similar to the practice of opposite sex marriage, they are prohibiting the free exercise of pagan religions and their practices. The argument becomes bigger than just same sex vs. opposite sex.

So what are the solutions? Either remove marriage from the governance of all states, or grant all people the legal rights to marry. Establish a “one size fits all” civil union, and let each religious organization sort out their own practices and morals.

Until this issue is put to rest, Pagan clergy will continue performing rites for all practioners in their community. We will continue the fight for the same legal rights afforded to other religions in the U.S. No longer will we be satisfied with a piece meal approach to validating or recognizing our rights to practice our beliefs, while others enjoy the full benefits of their religious beliefs and practices.

Opponents of same-sex marriage are on the loosing end of this battle, not only because their approach is based on bigotry and intolerance, but also because their grip on the morality of the nation is quickly slipping through their tightening fingers. Their attempts to enforce their will on a nation that fights around the world for freedom, has already begun to turn on their plans and efforts. They can try to scare people with their hate and rhetoric, they can shout at the top of their lungs at the changing times and attempt to instill their dominance over the land. One thing pagans realize and accept is that all things change, you cannot stop it and it’s often a bad idea to fight it.

One day this battle will be won and the social conservatives who are trying so hard to maintain control of the morality of others will find themselves left behind, both in society and within their own spiritual enlightenment. While the rest of the religious and spiritual communities enjoy kindness, compassion and tolerance with each other and within their communities.