Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Contemporary Paganism, CoG, & the same sex marriage controversy

On Wednesday August 4th. California District Court judge Vaughn R. Walker issued a ruling overturning California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriages within the state.

You can read a transcript of the full decision here

Here is a good summary of religious reaction from the Faith & Reason Blog:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regrets today's decision. California voters have twice been given the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage in their state and both times have determined that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We agree. Marriage between a man and woman is the bedrock of society...

..Rev. Barry Lynn head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State cheered the downfall of the referendum, which he says was a push by lavishly funded political front groups representing Catholic bishops, the LDS Church (Mormons) and fundamentalist Protestant churches to impose their doctrine on civil law marriage. In a statement Lynn said:

A growing number of American denominations and faith groups perform same-sex marriages. Why should the state refuse to recognize those ceremonies while approving of ceremonies by other clergy? A decent respect for church-state separation means the government should not play favorites when it comes to religion." ...(Cont.)...

I have collected some responses to the ruling and related comments from folks in the greater Pagan community. Let me begin with Starhawk - who was one of the founders of Covenant of the Goddess - from her Washington Post Blog post - Sexuality and Paganism:

"Pagans have a multiplicity of opinions on almost any subject, but if there's one thing we probably all agree upon, it's sex. Sex, in Pagan "theology", is a Good Thing, a gift of the Goddess, a way we connect deeply and intimately with one another and with the great creative forces of life. Sexuality is sacred. "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals," says the Charge of the Goddess, one of our most beloved liturgies."...

We welcome gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, and transgender folks and all the shades and variations in between, for that diversity enriches our community, challenges us to come to deeper and more complex understandings of our Gods and our images of the sacred, and makes life much more interesting!"

 T. Thorn Coyle a prominent pagan teacher and blogger had this to say in her post - Should We So Desire:

"...Theology aside for one moment, I’d like to get practical: 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. However, as a person who is queer in many ways, I would just as soon see the US government not provide marriages at all. We can have community celebrations of love and friendship and partnership in many forms and fora, whether we are Pagan, Hindu, Christian, or Atheist."  ...(Cont.)...

Michael York, a respected Pagan writer and scholar, posted this in his letter to The Wild Hunt:

"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."

Caliban - a prominent poster on British Traditional Wiccan lists - made this point in a recent letter to The Wild Hunt Blog:

"... it is not very long ago that attitudes which condemned homosexuality were commonplace in modern paganism, and our elders had to find their way to a more compassionate and inclusive understanding. Consider this bit from the "Laws of the Craft" penned by Gerald Gardner (this numbered version is that published by Lady Sheba):

153. It hath been found that practicing the Art doth cause a fondness between aspirant and tutor, and it is the cause of better results if this be so.

154. But if for any reason this be undesirable, it can easily be avoided by both persons from the outset firmly resolving in their minds that if any such ensure, it shall be that of brother and sister, or parent and child.

155. And it is for this reason that a man may be taught by a woman and a woman by a man and that woman and woman and man and man should never attempt these practices together.

156. And may all the Curses of the Mighty Ones be on any who make such an attempt.


Nor are such attitudes by any means extinct in Wicca, or in Pagan circles generally, although I do believe that they are far less so than in mainstream faiths, and that those who do remain morally opposed to homosexuality know that their opinion is an unpopular one. Traces of this thinking do, however, linger." ...(Cont.)...

More on this issue:
Craft Laws - Wikipedia

One of our CoG member bloggers - Cosette,  had this to say in her blog - From Jupiter:

"I'm glad to see much of the Pagan community speak out in support of same-sex marriage and I'm disappointed in those Pagan organizations that won't comment on the issue. There is a debate going on in one of the lists I subscribe to and some Pagans argue we should not be involved because this is not a religious issue. I think that's misguided..."

I'm am puzzled as to why some Pagans think the same-sex marriage debate is not a religious issue and am disappointed they won't support the cause on that basis. Beyond that, I firmly believe that this is a civil rights issue and religious leaders have always been at the forefront of progressive change."

While referring to the Covenant's advocacy on this issue another CoG member - Andras Corban Arthen - also of Earth Spirit Community, pointed this out on one of the CoG Lists:

"Same-sex marriage is most definitely a political issue. It is also most definitely a civil rights/legal issue, and a religious issue, and an ethical/moral issue, and a cultural (and in some cases, an ethnic or even racial) issue. It is, in addition, an economic issue --- I recently read about a Harvard economist's estimate of the revenues Massachusetts has gained (substantial, though I don't recall the exact figure) since the legalization of same-sex marriage here. It is *all* of these things, and it isn't *just* one of them, though, of course, one or another of them may trump others in a particular context (e.g., a court of law)..."

If COG, as a religious organization with 501(c)3 non-profit status, actively engaged in promoting political causes or candidates, or in directly influencing legislation, it could stand to lose its non-profit determination (though it bears remembering that such activity is allowed in the case of legislation that specifically would affect the existence of the organization). It could well be argued, though, that other religious organizations which are much bigger & wealthier than COG (or than the pagan movement as a whole, for that matter) are doing precisely that and getting away with it."  ...(Cont.)...

Another CoG member - ( " J.") -  had a different take on this issue as it relates to Covenant policy:

"...This issue walks a fine line between religion and politics, two topics that we all know are dangerous to organizations, churches and friendships. Where an issue can be divisive to The Covenant we need to be very cautious. Yes, The Covenant has been supportive of us GLBT folk... and the polyamorous as well.... and for that we are grateful. Because, you see, there are those, within The Covenant, who are supportive of us who actually do not believe in our rights. They've had to work out compromises in their own hearts and minds in order to support fellow-witches who are very different from them. And, mostly, they have done it. Graciously. There are members of member covens who have had to abstain from opposing their fellow coveners. I don't want to push them, nor do I want to put The Covenant into a hot discussion over Same Sex Marriage. The majority of COG Clergy will marry, or handfast, a GLBT couple. A few prefer not to. That ought to be their right without any of 'us' making them feel uncomfortable.

That said, any CoG Clergy who want to support the Same Sex Marriage movement should be able to do so openly and without restriction, and those who oppose it should be able to do the same.

I believe it is against the "Good of The Covenant as a Whole" to make political statements that say or insinuate that The Covenant as a Whole supports the Right To Marry. I just don't think it is good for the organization..."

I would add, however, that CoG as an organization has already taken a stand on this issue in September of 2008, when our Grand Council approved this Press Release from Lisa Morgenstern, who was NPIO at that time:

"BERKELEY, CA-September 2008 ; Covenant of the Goddess, a National Organization of Wiccan Congregations, offered a statement in support of Gay and Lesbian Marriage in California and Massachusetts.

“Covenant of the Goddess has, since its inception in 1975, had clergy willing to celebrate the religious if not the legal joining of two members of the same gender. While we respect the right of the individual clergy within COG who may choose not to perform such a ceremony, we are in support of marriage between two committed adults of any gender, and a majority of our celebrants are willing to perform such ceremonies.”

Covenant of the Goddess is supportive of stable family environments between spouses who are becoming family and views same gender marriages as a civil right. “As Pagans who are Witches or Wiccan, we remember our history and know that marriage is a civil contract, and historically, such was done to determine what property and belongings and livestock would be paid or received by the father of the bride or groom when the two families made an alliance. Same gender marriages date back to Ancient Greek and Roman times, when the majority of citizens were pagan. Marriage today is one way that two people can immediately become next of kin, and in today’s society with national privacy act issues, it is even more important for everyone in a loving committed relationship to have this right.” states Elder Priestess Lisa Morgenstern, National Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess.

Covenant of the Goddess was founded in 1975 to increase cooperation among Witches and to secure for Witches and covens the legal protection enjoyed by members of other religions. The Covenant publishes a newsletter; issues ministerial credentials on request to qualified persons; sponsors a national festival each summer; and encourages networking nationally, as well as regionally through local councils.

The Covenant is incorporated as a non-profit religious organization in California, though it has grown to be an international organization. It is a confederation of covens and solitary members of various traditions, who share in the worship of the Goddess and the Old Gods and subscribe to a common code of ethics. The Covenant holds a Grand Council annually to decide matters which require deliberation by the full membership. Decisions are usually made by consensus.

In recent years, the Covenant has taken part in spiritual and educational conferences, interfaith outreach, large public rituals, environmental activism, community projects and social action, as well as efforts to correct negative stereotypes and promote accurate media portrayals. Its clergy perform legal marriages (handfastings), preside at funerals and other rituals of life-transition, and provide counseling to Witches including those in the military and in prisons. The Covenant also provides youth awards, sponsorship of college and university student groups, and legal assistance in instances of discrimination."