By David Salisbury
Friends, families and allies all cheered and embraced as the Maryland Senate voted last night to pass a bill that will allow same-sex couples to legally marry within the state. The vote, 25-22, passed in the Senate last year as well but was defeated in the House. Gov. Martin O'Malley will sign the bill into law within the coming days. Its been an exciting month for supporters of marriage equality as similar bills passed through the legislature in Washington state and New Jersey.
Paganism could arguably be called one of the most equality-driven religious groups in the nation. A close friend of mine once told me "We [Pagans] have been performing marriages for same-sex couples since the 70's, before it was cool!." All joking aside, the Pagan clergy of Maryland have been awash in feelings of excitement and gratitude. I asked a number of Maryland clergy what their thoughts were on the passage of this historic bill.
Leanne Pemburn, High Priestess of Keepers of the Holly Chalice, said she thinks "it's marvelous, and if anyone asks, I will happily perform a handfasting for whoever needs one."
Angela Raincatcher, a celebrant in Becoming, had this to say about the news:
"The only reason I went through the paperwork of getting registered to perform marriages in DC was to officiate same-sex marriages there. I am ecstatic that Maryland is about to pass a marriage equality law and to be able to perform weddings for same-sex couples in the state as well. Last May we had a couple in Becoming who planned to get married in Maryland, when the legislation was up before. When it didn't pass, we had to do the legal ceremony in DC and the community celebration in Maryland as planned."
Orion Foxwood, Founding Elder of Foxwood Temple in Maryland sent us this statement emphasizing his temple's respect for all people:
"Foxwood has also stood for diversity, equity and integrity. As such, we could not in due conscience support unequal access to the blessings of legal marriage. Love is a blessing for all people, all couples and it is a gift from our beloved Goddess. So, Foxwood took the stance that, out of respect to the full sanctity of marriage, we would not perform legal marriages in a state or the District of Columbia until this right was afforded to all loving couples in that location. We felt that no institution, legal or religious, had the right to withhold blessings to true love. We also felt that all taxpayers (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Heterosexual, etc.) should be able to access the same level of rights since all were paying the same taxes. Foxwood stands behind love....not hate. We were pleased when marriage equality was provided in the District of Columbia and immediately began to officiate marriages to all eligible couples there as soon as it became an option. We stand ready to open this service again in Maryland as the sanctity of marriage is opened up and accessible to all loving couples. We are grateful that Governor O'Malley and other elected officials recognized the diversity of religions in our state and the diversity of couples seeking not only religious sanctions of their marriages and unions, but civil sanction as well. We are so proud that Foxwood Temple has put its actions where its philosophy is, "love and loving union is a right (not a privilege) for all."
Thelemite Stephanie Olmstead-Dean of William Blake Lodge in Baltimore echos the reaction of sheer joy seen in many of the other clergypeople:
"When I heard that the Maryland Senate had passed Marriage Equality I was thrilled. I bounced around like a kid. I'm so excited for many dear people who have been excluded from marriage, simply because of gender. It took a few hours before I remembered that not only can I rejoice in these marriages, but also I can actually legally perform the ceremonies! As requested, of course. "
Ariana Lightningstorm, a Maryland eclectic minister and member of the band KIVA tells us:
"I have been working, calling representatives and constituents as well as demonstrating for the last 2 years to have the freedom to handfast or marry legally gay couples in Maryland. Freedom of choice in who we love is a very important issue for me. The very first handfasting I performed was for a gay couple almost 30 years ago and we all wished it could have been a legal wedding. Finally, it can be. "
Irene Jericho, a clergyperson from Frederick, thinks its time that the physical realities of marriage match the spiritual:
"As a resident and Pagan Clergy member of Maryland, I can't begin to describe the feeling of pride I have for my state today. In years past, I have performed same-sex Handfastings but they were always limited to the spiritual and emotional aspects of the ritual. It is wonderful to finally be able to offer gay Pagan couples the same legal services I have been able to offer their straight brethren."Though we all share in the excitement of this historic news, its good to note that Maryland is a referendum state where virtually any legislative measure can be placed on a ballot for voter to decide if an opposing group can gain enough signatures. If that happens, marriages would be delayed until after the November elections. In either case, PNC-DC will keep you informed and will continue to present the reactions of Maryland clergy and the people they serve.