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Choosing Your Battles: On Marriage Equalities


One of my daily reads is Paul Fidalgo‘s Morning Heresy at the CFI website, and I was pleased to see a link to an article by Chris Trejbal at AMERICABlog on the battle to get secular celebrants recognized to solemnize marriages in every US state. Its main thrust echoes a comparison I made in a guest column I submitted back in November (which has never been published) about secular celebrants in Illinois: Just as we want marriage equality for same-sex couples, we also want equality for secular celebrants.

Part of me is hesitant about drawing the connection between marriage equality and the secular celebrant issue even though the issue at hand in both cases is fundamentally one of equal treatment: of same-sex couples to be given equal treatment under the law as opposite-sex couples and of secular celebrants to be given equal treatment under the law as religious celebrants. But the implications of marriage equality are far greater: It affects insurance, estate and inheritance, pension and Social Security, hospital visitation, adoption of children, and a bevy of other very significant issues. Secular celebrants just can’t sign a marriage certificate. The two are not equivalent in that respect.

I’ve been hesitant to get others riled up about this issue for that reason. If I’m going to incite someone to get involved in activism on an issue, I feel a responsibility to make sure that it’s a significant one if anyone else is going to invest the time and energy into fighting it. I’m invested because I’ve wanted to be a celebrant almost as long as I’ve been a non-believer (possibly a holdover from the days when I served in quasi-ministerial roles as a Christian), and I even looked into the Humanist Society briefly at one point. When I found out about CFI’s fight (by then a victory) in Indiana, I knew how I wanted to pursue that interest of being a secular celebrant.

Also in my mind lately have been the statements of other people I know, LGBT people who have been pointing out (as many others before them have) that the quest for marriage equality is one that ignores deeper issues of discrimination (there are no protections for LGBT individuals in terms of housing, employment, etc. in most US states) in favor of a more “normalized” issue where straight people can feel like LGBT people are “like them” in wanting to be in publicly recognized, committed relationships. This focus on commitment also ignores other ways in which LGBT people (in addition to heterosexuals) explore their sexuality, choosing instead to favor relationships which resemble a more traditional, monogamous relationship like that of the typical straight couple. I can’t ignore that, either.

What it comes down to for me is a matter of choosing your battles – by which I mean, deciding which battles are worth your time and attention. Some people would tell me, “Look, just get a Universal Life ordination – or even use that Dudeist ordination you signed up for as a joke like seven years ago.* Why is this fight even important?” And I have my reasons. No one is required to feel personally compelled by those reasons to take up the fight.

I also don’t think that all battles are mutually exclusive or that we have to wait to win one before we move onto another.

I do know this: Whatever battles you decide to take on – secular celebrants, marriage equality, LGBT discrimination, reproductive rights, tort reform…whatever – I hope that they are noble and that you take them up with passion.

*This is actually true. I didn’t know what Dudeism was when I got ordained online, nor have I even seen The Big Lebowski.

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About Galen
Galen is a certified Secular Celebrant with the Center for Inquiry (CFI). The views expressed on this site do not necessarily represent those of CFI. (For more information about Galen, click here.)
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