Guest Column: Standing for marriage equality as a Muslim
April 3, 2013
Over the course of Spring Break, my traditionally blue Facebook page was turning red. My friends, it seems, are overwhelmingly supportive of gay rights, changing everything from their profile pictures to their banners in response to the recent Supreme Court case, United States v. Windsor. Likewise, thousands more rallied outside the high court to show their support for marriage equality, hoping that change will come with the ruling.
But the case in its original context is not about legalizing gay marriage. Instead, it is a dispute about taxes. Edith Windsor, the plaintiff, and Thea Spyer, her partner of 41 years, married in Canada six years ago. When Spyer died two years after the marriage, Windsor received her partner’s estate, along with a tax bill for more than $300,000. According to the federal court, the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, prevented Windsor’s eligibility for a spousal tax deduction because it can only be awarded to opposite-sex couples, even if a same-sex couple is legally married under state law.
I have been watching this debate from afar, weighing my opinion, not quite willing to change my Facebook photo to the red equal sign that has so quickly became a symbol of the debate. I say this, not because I am interested in protecting the sanctity of marriage (having studied the history of marriage with Lane Fenrich, I have learned that this sanctity is nearly nonexistent in America), but because I have been grappling with the debate in the context of my politics (liberal) and my religion (not so liberal).
As a Muslim, I understand that some things are forbidden to me, namely eating pork, wearing revealing clothing, committing adultery, drinking alcohol and partaking in homosexual activity, among other things. I have also come to understand that choosing my religion, as I have done, means choosing to adopt these practices in the name of God. I am often asked whether these things are difficult by non-Muslims and, more surprisingly, by Muslims from other countries. They believe, as I used to, that this country is a world of true freedom, where no one’s rights can be taken and where the laws of the land are only in your favor.
In some ways, they are right; I could choose not to follow my religious teachings. But what they do not realize is the value of a much greater freedom – the freedom to practice my religion and live whatever lifestyle I choose to live, that, to me, freedom means being allowed to wear my hijab and to pray and to fast without interjection from the government. And yes, that often draws attention and scrutiny, along with prejudice.
If anything, what I have come to realize is that my struggle as a Muslim is my struggle as a minority in America. Regardless of how many times I emphasize that I belong here, I will be met with opposition. Like Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, I have come to recognize that my plight is also the plight of African Americans, Latinos and, though many Muslims may disagree with me, LGBTQ individuals.
That’s not to say that Islam will ever allow homosexuality. It won’t — just as drinking alcohol, committing adultery and eating pork will never be religiously permissible. But, likewise, homosexuality will continue to exist, and like religion, being LGBTQ is a lifestyle, whose freedoms are protected by our constitutional rights in this country where freedom is of the utmost priority.
As a religious person, it is not my place to impose my moral judgment or religious teachings on any other being, just as is it is not the place of Congress members to do so. Instead, the law should reflect the will of the people and equality for everyone, as well as a true adherence to secular policy.
Though our country is based on secular politics and religious freedom, it seems that decisions about our rights are simply a construct of human judgment and bigotry. I cannot comprehend why a country that prides itself on being the land of the free would be comfortable limiting LGBTQ rights to marriage under the pretense of “nature.” The idea of “nature” reads directly from each individual’s background, and, most prominently, from religion. At one point, interracial marriages were not allowed under the same pretense. But our Constitution is neither limited by religious texts or revelations, and no religion (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc.) can infringe upon our rights.
At the time when DOMA was passed, moral disapproval mapped the landscape. Decisions were made regarding homosexuality that reflected individual perspectives and fears, but now it’s time to set those feelings aside because it is clear there is no constitutionally permissible distinction between straight and gay couples. Though supporters of DOMA, including Chief Justice John Roberts, may suggest that this change in perspective is due to effective lobbying, I stand with Justice Kagan, who so eloquently said, “I don’t believe that moral understanding comes from political power.”
As a member of a politically powerless group, I can empathize with feeling mistreated by the American government for holding certain beliefs and practicing my lifestyle. Because I hope to live the rest of my life with the freedom this nation strives to uphold, I can only support marriage equality and hope that it gets better for all of us.