Before I get started I want to say a couple of things. June is Pride Month in the United States and elsewhere, a month recognized by many to celebrate the diversity and sometimes the unity of the LGBTQIAA-etc community. All across the United States and in several countries around the globe people are celebrating Pride in the LGBTQIAA-etc community with parades, picnics, festivals, concerts, and other fun events. In the History section of this article you will learn about some of the whys for this month as well as how this annual celebration came about in the United States.
That said, we also must remember that our LGBTQIAA-etc brothers and sisters are not free of the hate, discrimination, and harassment that many of our straight brothers and sisters take for granted. Not in the United States, not in Europe, and certainly not in South America, Africa, and other parts of the world. A battle may have been won recently in the United States, but the war is far from over. All you have to do is open the news section of your browser, turn on the TV, or check your local papers to see that the war is not over. Small skirmishes having been flaring up over the weekend and will continue to do so for weeks, months, and even years to come. One can only hope that those skirmishes will not flare up into full-fledged battles any time soon – or at all.
I’m posting off schedule here. I asked our editor if I could tackle this topic when it became clear that the Supreme Court of the United States would be making a ruling on same-sex marriage by the end of June. Dash graciously said yes and even shared that with all the other contributors to this site. Thank you to Dash and to everyone else with Pagan Activist for clearing the road for this post.
A bit of history: Gay marriage has been a slow uphill climb. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Hawaii’s Supreme court ruled in May 1993 that the state could not “deny same-sex couples the right to marry unless it finds ‘a compelling reason’ to do so, and orders the issue back to the state legislature.” Hawaii law makers passed a ban on same-sex marriage that was later ratified by voter referendum in 1997, despite the state becoming the first to offer same-sex domestic partnerships in 1997. The state’s Superior Court ruled in 1998 that same-sex couples had the constitutional right to marry, but stayed their own decision pending appeal to SCOTUS. SCOTUS later tossed the case back down to the state level where it stagnated.
June 26th has become an auspicious date in LGBTQIAA-etc history. June 26, 2003, SCOTUS threw down Texas sodomy laws, further legal analysis determined that by strike down the Texas law and similar laws in other state that SCOTUS made the first ruling on “sexual privacy” which opened the door for marriage equality cases. June 26, 2013, SCOTUS began “chipping away” at the bar against same-sex marriage on the national level when it overturned DOMA Section 3 (Defense of Marriage Act, 1996). DOMA S3 prevented legally married (on the state level) same-sex couples from receiving federal marriage benefits, such as Social Security survivor’s benefits, and the ability to file joint federal tax returns. (See a timeline of same-sex marriage rulings in the United States here.)
Each one of these decision came down from the Supreme Court just two days before that year’s anniversary of Stonewall. What went down in history as the “Stonewall Riots” began early in the morning of June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village at a local gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. The first anniversary of the “riots” marked the first “official” gay pride parade. What most people forget is that the “riots” were organized and led by transwomen, people of color, and the homeless. The Stonewall Inn was known in Greenwich Village to be a safe haven for all three of those groups, as well as for gay men and other members of the community. It was during yet another NYC police raid that Sylvia Rivera and others got fed up and retaliated. By today’s standards of riots, Stonewall was a picnic – very little violence from the protesters, low property damage, etc. For information search “Stonewall Riots” in your favorite web browser or visit WikiPedia’s article or the Civil Rights website. The Stonewall Inn still exists today and continues to be a safe haven for the LGBTQIAA-etc community in Greenwich Village.
The Decision: On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States made their decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodge. Along with joint cases from several of the states (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee), the Obergefell case brought the question of marriage equality to SCOTUS for what appears to be a final decision for the entire nation. In the Obergefell case it was a question of whether one male spouse could be listed as survivor on the death certificate of the other male spouse. (A question that morally should have been a no-brainer. Apparently it wasn’t a legal no-brainer.)
The 2015 decision came as no surprise to most of us who have been watching the debates over states’ rights, whether marriage should be legally defined as “between one man and one woman”, and similar arguments for and against same-sex marriage. As early as February of this year it was strongly hinted at by several of the Supremes that the Court would be ruling in favor of same-sex marriage by the end of their current session. That became evident when “emergency” rulings were called upon for several states who had appealed to SCOTUS for a more final decision on their marriage equality cases – Alabama for example – and the Justice making the “emergency” ruling either tossed it back to the state level and/or upheld the state’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
The 5-4 vote was also no surprise. The Supremes have traditionally voted that number divide for such controversial cases. They voted similarly in the DOMA S3 decision in 2013. Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kennedy all cast their lot with marriage equality, Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court Friday morning.
In an unusual move, the four dissenting Justices each wrote separate dissents. Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas cast their lot (and will go down in history as doing so) with the old guard conservative idea that gay rights are “special rights” and thus not “human rights” or worthy of equal protection under the law. (Read the ruling and the dissents in a PDF.)
No matter what side each Justice fell on, this is an historic event and one that means a lot to many people around the United States – for good or ill. Each of these Justices will be remembered for many things during their tenures on the bench. Some of those rulings have been beneficial to this country, some have not. Each Justice has ruled favorably on issues that I stand by, and each Justice has ruled against some of the issues I stand by. With luck, and the faith of the people, each of these Justices is sworn to make judicial decisions based on the Constitution, not on their own beliefs and religious ideals. But let us be real, no person can make decisions totally without being influenced by their beliefs or religio-spiritual ideals. It just isn’t possible.
As the mainstream media has been saying, “same-sex marriage is the law of the land.” This means that all states, territories, and properties of the United States must recognize same-sex marriages no matter where the license was issued and that every government office that issues said licenses must do so equally and fairly to same-sex couples and heterosexual couples. Already court clerks have resigned rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples (see Texas). In other states, clerks have been dragging their feet or citing religious reasons for declining to issue the licenses (see Louisiana and Mississippi). In many of the incidents, either state sanctioned or otherwise, the clerks or higher authorities cited “state’s rights” and “religious liberty” for cause to refuse the licenses.
Simply put, and this is my opinion, a state does not have the right to refuse to obey a Federal law, mandate, or Federal court ruling. The “full faith and credit” clause of the US Constitution should be enough to assure that. I guess it isn’t, though. I’m not a constitutional lawyer or an expert by any stretch. However, I have referred to the US Constitution’s clause and similar clauses in several states’ constitutions when opining that Nebraska and other states have been in violation of those clauses when refusing to recognize same-sex marriage performed in states where it was legal prior to June 26th. (Note, I live in Nebraska).
But enough about the legalese… This is an activist site, and a Pagan activist site at that. How does this impact Pagans?
Many of us, especially in the United States, have felt for years, decades, or our entire lives, that the LGBTQIAA-etc community has been marginalized in the law. Unfair treatment, legally sanctioned discrimination, lack of housing rights, lack of protections in employment, etc. Many of us have fought for equal rights for our LGBTQIAA-etc brothers and sisters. And many of us are LGBTQIAA-etc community members as well as a part of the Pagan community.
Many in both communities have been celebrating this legal victory from SCOTUS. Myself included. I haven’t attended a rally, a picnic, or a street party to celebrate. I have talked at length about the potential impact of this ruling on my local LGBTQIAA-etc community as well as what it means for the rest of the community in the United States. I’ve toasted the decision publicly and shared the cup with many allies and supporters of the LGBTQIAA-etc community. Just this Sunday afternoon between performances of a play I was in, we gathered around the table and toasted both the decision and the allies who helped to make this an uphill battle. (Enjoying a local brew, to boot!) Sunday morning’s edition of Lavender Hill on KZUM devoted much of the first half hour to talking about the SCOTUS ruling and its impact on the Lincoln, NE community.
Voices of the community have been heard and read online, in the papers, on TV, and throughout social media. A few of those voices agreed to allow me to include their words here. The comments range from addressing the continue hate-speak of those who are against marriage equality to cautioning against antagonizing them.
My friend and co-host on the Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel published a brief statement in a comment to a discussion on Facebook:
Marriage is the legal recognition of a legal unit (a couple) by the state. A marriage ceremony (wedding) can be performed by a church and a marriage can be recognized or not by a church. If there wasn’t so much stuff that goes into the legal recognition of a couple, I wouldn’t care about church-defined vs legally defined, but there is. To not recognize the creation of a legal unit (a couple) by all persons, with the legal rights of that unit, because of any reason outside of age (must be of majority age), consent (all unions are consensual), and species (seriously?!? this is still an argument?)… to not recognize all legal unions is discrimination. Period. END OF STORY. I don’t have to like it (though I do). You don’t have to like it (I don’t care if you do). No one has to like it. It just has to be equal. – Sarah Buhrman/KaliSara of Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel
Rhiannon Dragcruin of the Covenant of Kernunnos Tradition shared some of her thoughts on her Facebook page on June 27th:
Ok…first thing…I am *elated* that all who love and are devoted to each other and a life together are now able to have that connection legally recognized…it is, to me, a great advancement in our society!
I also understand the feeling of vindication for individuals who have long been marginalized and victimized as well as the feeling of triumph from the supporters.
These posts, though, which encourage those who strongly uphold their personal beliefs to carry through with rash and brash threats do not uphold the dignity and joy this celebration of love equality should be. We are stooping to their level […]. [B]asically sticking out our tongues and saying “nyeah nyeah nyeah, nyeah, nyeah, nyeah!” How does this help? History teaches it is never a good idea to rub a vanquished foe’s face in his defeat. It just makes them more bitter and determined to strike back with a vengeance. Please, in love…be careful…words cannot be unsaid! – The Lady Rhiannon Dragcruin, founder, matriarch, and high priestess of the Covenant of Kernunos Tradition
Hear more from KaliSara and myself on our special Pagan Weekly News broadcast from Friday, June 26, 2015.
Even the conservatives and Republicans having been voicing their positive views on marriage equality since the decision was announced Friday morning. TalkingPointsMemo has a video of CNN contributor S.E. Cupp tearing up after the decision was handed down: “It’s hard not to watch that and get emotional. […] Those people there are not pariahs, they’re patriots. […] I would challenge the members of my party to […] ask yourself if they deserve the same kind of dignity that the rest of us get to enjoy. […M]y party really has to reconcile with the fact that we are going to become relics if we don’t get to where these people are.”
As for me, I am thrilled that I can now offer my services as a licensed minister to perform legal ceremonies for both straight couples and same-sex couples. For almost twenty years I have been able to perform legal ceremonies for straight couples and only offer religious ceremonies for same-sex couples.
On a more political and activist level, I have to realize (as I hope you do) that the war is far from over. Marriage equality exists in the United States now. For that I am deeply thankful. However, in many states it is still legal for an employer to fire or otherwise discriminate against an employee who is openly gay, it is still legal for a landlord (or lady) to terminate your lease if they learn (or even think) that you are LGBTQIAA-etc, businesses can still refuse to serve you if you are gay or lesbian or bi or trans.
In my state, Nebraska, only one city has successfully passed and implemented an anti-discrimination law or policy that protects the LGBTQIAA-etc community from discrimination. Other cities and towns have passed such, but the city council, lobbyists, or voters have put a hold on such. The state’s legislature continues to table the vote on a revised anti-discrimination law that would protect the entirety of the LGBTQIAA-etc community from such discrimination, most recently during their Spring 2015 session. The Lincoln City Council passed the Lincoln Fairness effort, but a petition successfully circulated to stay that ordinance pending a ballot vote by the citizens – a ballot measure that has been repeatedly left off in each election since.
These are just a few examples of how the war for equality is not over. All you have to do to realize that is look around at the media. Not only are we continuing to fight the war for “gay rights”, but civil rights in general. The Black community of the United States still faces discrimination on a daily basis, the religious minorities of this nation continue to face harassment and hate from the more mainstream religions, and the disabled and mentally ill (two separate groups) are constantly misunderstood and misrepresented by most of media and the culture of the United States.
What you can do to continue this valiant fight is be aware. Go ahead and celebrate this victory. I know I am doing so. But keep in mind that there are many more steps in this dance of equality that we haven’t even begun to learn. The steps that need to be taken to where there is no inequality may never be completely finished. The dance may continue generation after generation. Education of yourself and those around you is one of the keys you bringing up a more equitable life for all in the US and around the globe.
If you see something that you know is not right, something that is discriminatory (whatever group it is focused on) then speak up, stand up, and educate. Be peaceful whenever possible. Take stronger steps when appropriate. Above all, don’t ignore it.
In Peace, Love, and Equality – RevKess
I look forward to reading your replies. If you wish to reply privately (rather than in the comments section) you may do so via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or in a private message to my public Facebook page, RevKess – Philipp Kessler.