Thursday, March 28, 2013


The US Supreme Court has not yet ruled, but it is clear from anecdotal conversations and news reports as well as from scientific polls that a majority of Americans support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Not having marriage equality brings real harms. One of them — and I know folks who have experienced this — is related to immigration. Gay and lesbian binational couples have had to fight deportation, separation, and exile caused by the "Defense of Marriage Act" and US Immigration law. And that's just one reason marriage matters. There are a slew of other real world problems that come from not having relationship recognition, economic hardships that different-sex couples need never face.

Beyond this equality and equity issue lies something more basic. 

Marriage equality brings with it something ineffable. Marriage is magic. A Muslim woman friend of mine got married recently in Washington, DC, where it's legal, and had been a critic of the institution. She shared with me that after being wed, she had a realization: something really is different about marriage. She can still articulate and agree with critiques of the institution, but deeply appreciates being married. Perhaps not unlike Feminist Hulk would.

I come to these questions as a lawyer and policy wonk, and also as an American whose commitment to justice, equality, and equity is rooted in my Muslim faith. It was with great pleasure I read Omid Safi's endorsement of marriage equality. Safi, a Muslim American intellectual and spiritual leader, sums up the position of most Muslim Americans I know:
We don't want a two-tiered model of justice. We don't want a two-tiered model of citizenship. A two-tiered justice is not justice, and a two-tiered citizenship is not real citizenship.
He's right. Islam cares about Justice. And Muslims value full and equal citizenship.

I understand some people are truly and honestly conflicted, even morally concerned. Good people, to quote Sen. Claire McCaskill, are troubled by the idea of what same-sex couples do together, let alone them having equal rights. Some of these folks are Muslims.

Everyone has the right to their opinions and values. These rights are trumped by the reality of individuals and children for whom relationship recognition brings with it over 1,000 rights and benefits that flow from marriage. Plus, in a secular democracy in which no religious group or splinter movement within a religious tradition gets to legislate its theology on the rest of us, marriage equality is the logical conclusion.

For those who argue the theoretical point that governments shouldn't be in the business of sanctioning unions in the first place, I say, the fact is governments do sanction them. It's too easy to bandy theory when you have rights and it's not you being denied full participation in a civil institution.

As long as a whole class of citizens does not have access to the rights and benefits (or responsibilities) that are bundled up with marriage, they are denied the equal protection of the laws. 

However the Court may rule, this, to me, is the moral argument in support of marriage equality.

I am deeply grateful to all who have struggled for justice and equality, allies who changed their profile picture on Facebook or donated money and time to advocacy groups, all the folks who marched and demonstrated, wrote letters, spoke to their neighbors, colleagues, and family. I am grateful to all the tireless activists and staff working on these campaigns and issues. So many of you will remain nameless. I may not know you, but I thank you.

And yet, my joy at this apparent progress does not come without sadness. 

The LGBTQ Movement for equality and inclusion must think about what happens next. Equality will have to be defended; there will be a backlash. But even more important, is the thinking about what happens beyond marriage.

Justice means little without equity. Any Muslim can tell you that. While for many, marriage equality is the path to accessing social security survivorship benefits or not paying taxes on property transfers after the death of a life partner, equity means making access to that kind of security possible for all, regardless of marital status.

And if you thought marriage was everything, then you might be wearing blinders. While the media was focused on the amazing possibility of marriage equality, this happened

movement for equality and liberation must think more broadly than simply having rights. Still, I don't see this as a reason for despair or to give up. It just means the struggle continues. As a Muslim, this makes sense to me: #MyJihad (my struggle) is to keep working for justice & equality, equity & access, dignity & inclusion, and security & freedom for all. 

I hope you'll join me.

Love, Light, & Peace,

PS In all this brouhaha, I can't help but wonder, is Pamela Geller's head spinning, seeing so many Muslims not sounding like Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson? KF

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  1. Thank you for this! What happens "beyond marriage" is a great question. Will we see a more cohesive LGBTQI movement a la the one the Task Force advocates for? Or will some s*** that's been an obstacle to such cohesion have nowhere to hide?

  2. Kamal, this is a great reflection. I am hopeful that we closer to the door of total recognition than ever as GLBT community in the USA. What comes after this right is granted is a future unknown. What is happening right now worth our scrutiny. Exercising the currently granted rights, civil union, partnership and marriage wherever they are granted would serve as the scientific evidence for making case for new ones, particularly marriage equality. I hope more people from our community will opt for settled relationships.

  3. Having been raised a Baptist in the South, I quickly discovered the problems with the modern Baptist (and some other Protestant) churches. As someone who made it through religious indoctrination and took what I considered to be the important lessons with me, I tend to be very impatient with those who have "principled" opposition to gay marriage based on their beliefs.The core message that we heard and read about each Sunday--ostensibly straight from God's or Jesus's mouths--was one of peace, love, acceptance, tolerance, and humility before God. "Judge not lest ye be judged." Etc. I was probably a pre-teen when I started recognizing the undercurrent of hate, intolerance, tribalism, and arrogance that lay behind the superficial banner of Christianity for many church-goers. Some people, including our minister, were truly accepting, and meant what they preached or taught. But many others seemed to fundamentally miss the point, which seems a waste of many a Sunday morning. I see no reason to put this important civil right off any longer, and certainly not at the behest of so-called "religious" objections, particularly when so many "religious" marriages end in divorce, abuse, etc. Keeping my fingers crossed that the Court does the right thing. However, if they can't see their way to justice, I suspect that the people eventually will show them. (By the way, to underscore the significance of the title of your blog, one of my favorite contemporary Christian songs contains a line in which Jesus says, "In remembrance of me, don't look up, look into your heart for God.")


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