Two years ago, I stood outside the doors of our state House of Representatives in a vigil of hope. Our legislators had gathered to proclaim the uniformity of Minnesota’s religious and social character and to put forth a Constitutional Amendment preventing any legal acceptance of family contracts beyond one man, and one woman. This was not new, as 30 states had done this before us; but I was hurt and saddened that my state, my community, might make such a statement to me as a bisexual man and as clergy.I am married to a woman I love quite dearly. While our marriage has had its moments of pain and sorrow, even at those moments I look back on the day we were married, when our priest and priestess looked us in the eyes and shared with us a commitment before the gods to honor our love and build a life upon trust, care, and hope shared as partners. Nothing in my life can parallel the joy of that moment – our religious community, our families, and the representatives of our state looked upon us and celebrated our choice to begin a walk as family.
Jay Linnell as the Minnesota House began debate last week.
Representatives of the state? Yes. That would be the priest who signed our wedding license. Any reader who, like me, holds a license as clergy, is specifically licensed by the state to endorse and license marriages. We attest to the validity and to our surety that each couple is properly prepared to support one another as partners in life. We are given license to look upon any couple and make the essential statement of who is or is not family.
For too long, that license has had an asterisk, reading “so long as the state has properly inspected their genitals (at birth or reassignment) and deemed them a match”. As a priest, that asterisk has been painful, it has told me my license is no honor to my service as a priest, but a badge to be a servant of a legislator’s faith.
That has been a struggle for me. When Dawn and I were married, she and my mom had to do some work to convince me to accept legal marriage. I looked at our list of invitees, and saw so many (including the priest mentioned above) whose marriages I never dreamed would be recognized in my lifetime. How could I accept that dignity if they could not? How could I as a pagan accept endorsement of a contract I knew was not available to those who would gather to celebrate my love?
It felt like theft. But mom and Dawn made quite clear what the joy of marriage meant to them and especially to my intended bride. To set up contracts and create an “almost-marriage” would not only be complicated, but would be indignity, it would tell her she was something less, that our family wasn’t real to me.
That spiritually and magically, my heart wasn’t really in it.
Of course, I happily married her, and gave her my heart in as full and true a ritual as I could, complete with the legal endorsement on behalf of our clergy. And I steeled myself that when the opportunity came, when the iron was hot, I would act to make that same moment a reality for those I love.
As a witch, love is essential to my faith. In my faith I work to build intimate relationships with fellow clergy, with my coven mates and tradition members, with the gods I worship, with the elemental spirits who make up this world. Every one of those relationships requires self-evaluation, an understanding of what I give those I love, what self I offer and how that serves their needs and fosters a world build on the sort of love I hope to share.
As relationships need attention to continue to grow, I take time to walk with particular spirits, and in the year this amendment was pending, was my year with fire. Naturally, in the light of this amendment, I was drawn to focus on fire as that nurturing and nourishing spirit of love, the heart of the gods, the lust of Pan and the solace of Hera, the spirit which drives our connection as lovers, mates and partners throughout out lives. And in service to that spirit, I put aside a night a week to make phone calls, to knock on doors, to talk to individual Minnesotans about what love means to us, about what marriage means to us… and about our many friends, sisters, teachers, grandfathers, students, and more, singled out by this amendment as unfit for the joy and dignity framed by that word.
Minnesota heard that conversation. They embraced the emotional spirit of nurturing and dignity that I see as the spirit of fire, the heart of the goddess. While Minnesota did not act in the goddess’s name (It’d be hubris and plain ignorance to assume they all share my faith), they recognized the values I draw from my faith are values they share.
And they honored my freedom of conscience, my freedom of faith. As a worshiper and as a priest, I have been told by Minnesota that the beliefs of my community will not be Constitutionally banned. That’s a beautiful thing to hear, and was a great first step. And Minnesotans joyfully continued that conversation – they told their legislators what marriage means, whom in their life it would affect for the better, and our laws were re-framed so that every couple would be treated with dignity. So that every priestess and priest in our community would be given the freedom of conscience to endorse the couples who present themselves to us honestly as committed families.
One week ago I stood before the doors of our House of Representatives and sang with joy as they voted to recognize our dignity as clergy and as families. I am overjoyed. Minnesota has been engulfed in that nourishing fire, has embraced what I see as the patient love of the goddess in each of our hearts, and has declared, in harmony with words which inspire our traditional roots: “Love is the Law!” And yes, my friends, that is love under will. Thank you all for the will you have committed to seeing this through. I know I was not alone in my prayers, magic, and commitment of time and attention. And I am grateful that Minnesota’s work has settled on joy, and dignity, and that our religious choices as followers of a minority faith, will in one way be shown greater respect in the state I lovingly call home.