When issues of personal religious morality and public policy collide, as they sometimes do in discussions of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage or to legalize same-sex marriage, which way do you vote and why?
Dr. Sherman Jackson in On Morality & Politics (no longer available), Itrath Syed in Equality: What it Means, How it Works, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin in A Muslim American’s Thoughts on Gay Marriage, and Melody Moezzi in Muslim States Must Support LGBT Rights argue that instead of getting bogged down in arguments of whether one’s own religion condones a specific activity or orientation, the larger issue of concern is an appeal to Constitutional rights in a pluralistic society.
If we as Muslims appeal to the Constitution in order to practice our religion freely in America then it is hypocritical and inconsistent to use religious arguments to deny others the rights guaranteed to them under that same Constitution. In the case of same-sex marriage, rights guaranteed, some will argue, by the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses contained within the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
When one former supervisor told me that I could not wear hijab at work, I confidently told her that I wore it for religious reasons and had a First Amendment right to do so. When the case was forwarded to the chief legal officer of our agency, he ruled in my favor not because of evidence from the Quran or hadith, which my former employer did not accept as an authority or source of legislation but because I was entitled to the First Amendment protection to exercise my religion freely.
The same can be said of one of my former colleagues who happened to be a Seventh-Day Adventist, his schedule was adjusted so that he did not have to work on Saturdays. I have invoked First Amendment protections numerous times to take extra time out of work to pray and to break my fast, to skip, reschedule, or be exempt from school midterms or important exams and from mandatory trainings at work that were scheduled on a Muslim holiday.
I, as a Muslim am open to working with Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and people from other religious traditions to gain recognition for religious holidays in schools. This is not because I want to celebrate Hanukkah or Diwali or Christmas, nor because I think my religion condones such celebrations but because when I stand to support the rights of others, I am also indirectly supporting my own right to practice my religion. I believe that disparate groups can come together to advocate and agitate for our rights under the Constitution to exercise our religion freely. And that a corollary to exercising our own rights is to ensure that the rights of others to exercise their Constitutional freedoms and protections are respected even if we disagree with them on a personal level.
If we do not take a stand when the rights of others are infringed upon, we should not expect any better treatment when legislation is passed to ban the hijab or the building of mosques. I don’t want the government involved in the personal lives of its citizens nor do I want the government to sanction religious arguments as a basis of policy. It is the separation of church and state that protects Muslims and people of other faiths from intrusions into religious practice so I will not use a religious argument to weaken that separation.
Controversially, in the same vein, conservative Muslims may want to join forces with some of the Mormon groups to advocate for the legalization of polygamy. This can be achieved in a civic society not by appealing to our various religious scriptures but by appealing in court or to our elected officials for the rights guaranteed under the Constitution protecting the free exercise of religion.
I conclude with the words of Dr. Sherman Jackson:
I would only add that, as a Muslim, I should be no more compelled to accept their moral vision than they are to accept mine. They do not accept the prophethood of Muhammad. I should not have to accept the morality of homosexuality. Nor should it be assumed, on the other hand, that because I reject homosexuality on moral grounds I reduce a person’s entire worth as a human being to his or her sexual orientation.
And God knows best.