SAME-SEX MARRIAGE OFFICIANT
In 2010, Washington DC joined five states: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, in affirming same-sex marriages. Of course, being one of several hundred citizens that spoke in support of same-sex marriage in Washington DC, I testified before the DC City Council as their only Muslim religious leader to speak on behalf of same-sex marriage. Needless to say, the testimony presented convinced members of the City Council to pass the pending resolution and same-sex marriage became law in Washington DC.
It is very important to point out that it was not just queer people alone that supported the legislation for same-sex marriages in the District of Columbia. There were numerous non-gay religious leaders and their institutions that supported the law. These individuals and institutions recognized the inequality that had been set in place through centuries-old beliefs founded in heterosexual normative thinking that marriage is only for a man and a woman. In speaking with several of the religious leaders who had welcoming congregations, they indicated in the early days when they began supporting the resolution to change the law, there were personal and congregational debates on the issue. However, after much personal prayer and discussion with their queer and non-gay congregants, they had to stand for what was right in their scriptural understandings and providing equality under the law. In some instances, some long-term congregants left their fellowships never to return.
Furthermore, as it relates to the current status of same-sex marriages, organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Religious-Tolerance.org, showed graphically, how many states granted some form of "rights" for same-sex couples, and the number of countries in the world where same-sex marriage is endorsed. Though internationally, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa and Sweden have same-sex marriages, I will concentrate on the United States in this blog entry.
In 17 of the 50 states, some form of same-sex marriage benefits do exist, five of those states and Washington DC, as outlined above, permit same-sex marriages and 12 states civil unions, but fall horrendously short in the benefits permitted couples in comparison to heterosexual couples. According to the 2009 report by the HRC, there are nearly 1131 benefits available to married couples-over 1000 of them are federal and 400 are state. I am happy to say, though, that under the Obama administration a number of federal benefits have been granted for same-sex couples where at least one partner works for the federal government have been granted, there remains significant ground to be covered in order to bring full equality of benefits for all married couples.
It appears, though, unless you are in a same-sex marriage or civil union, many queer people are not fully aware of some of the areas where they lose significant benefits because the current laws prevent them from obtaining as same-sex marriage or civil union couples. Some of these areas include survival benefits for children or parents, but also include many others like earned income tax credits, head of household status credit, child tax credits, tax on gains from sales, estate taxes, tax and retirement savings, family and medical leave, employee benefits, continued health coverage, and a barrage of other federal and state benefits.
Several weeks ago, I received my DC Marriage Officiant license to perform all types of marriages in DC or other places. Happily, I have framed the certificate and it hangs on my wall today, but I also recognize very clearly that whosoever wishes to marry, should the couple be same-sex, the full range of benefits and rights may be limited, or even null and void, depending upon where they reside. Though this license helps me further promote same-sex marriages, let it be known that I am not unaware of the extreme imbalances in state and federal rights that are granted to anyone that I marry. This is why I encourage you as queer Muslims who are in same-sex couples, or hope to be in the future, to continue in your local, state and federal jurisdictions, to push for passage of same-sex marriage. Be mindful that you should not ignore, but make sure to include in your efforts to change these discriminatory laws, your supportive friends, family and allies. It is through combined efforts that same-sex marriage will become as commonplace as opposite sex marriage. It is just my hope, regardless of a couple's religious affiliation or not, the majority of same-sex couples will not duplicate the outrageous 51% divorce rate that plagues heterosexual marriages today.
Note: Imam Daayiee Abdullah provides Islamic pastoral counseling at www.daayiee.com. Imam Daayiee Abdullah is an Islamic legal scholar and currently Imam and Religious Education Director at The Light Of Reformation Mosque in Washington DC. You may reach Imam Daayiee at his website under "contact me".