An Argument for the Constitution | Gay Marriage | When Personal Morality and Public Policy Collide

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.

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Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

9 thoughts on “An Argument for the Constitution | Gay Marriage | When Personal Morality and Public Policy Collide”

  1. Wa alaykum salaam,

    I felt the arguments by Dr. Jackson and Itrath Syed were refreshing, very different from the usual talking points, glad you liked them, Baraka from Richshawdiaries highlighted the articles.

  2. We should be careful about assisting people in committing the haram:

    From Riyadh-us-Saliheen:

    196. Ibn Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “The first failing to enter the Children of Isra’il was that a man would meet another man and say, ‘O so and so! Fear Allah and stop what you are doing. It is not lawful for you,’ Then he would meet him again the following day and find him still doing the same thing but that would not prevent him from eating, drinking and sitting with him. When they did this, Allah caused the hearts of some of them to be tainted by others. Then He said, “Those among the Tribe of Israel who rejected were cursed on the tongue of Dawud and that of ‘Isa, son of Maryam. That is because they rebelled and overstepped the limits. They would not restrain one another from any of the wrong things that they did. How evil were the things they used to do! You see many of them taking the unbelievers as their friends. What their lower selves have advanced for them is evil indeed” to “deviators” (5:78-81) Then he said, “No, by Allah, you should command the right and forbid the wrong and you should restrain the unjust and bend them to the truth and confine them to the truth or Allah will cause the hearts of some of you to be tainted by others. And then He will curse you as He cursed them.'” (Abu Dawud and at-Tirmidhi]

    1. Shukri, we should also be careful to not quote narrations in isolation and to make sure we are not committing injustice by taking inconsistent positions which harm others and in the long run will also harm us.

      A number of the arguments advanced by some Muslims could easily be turned in our direction to strip us of our rights to freely practice our beliefs and religion as well.

  3. Ms. Okoye,

    That was actually the entire quote and it makes sense by itself, though perhaps you can give us the context that you think the Prophet’s words are missing.

    The danger in the position that you seem to have adopted is weak morality. I.e if the gays support us, then we support them regardless of right and wrong in Islam. This is simply an unprincipled point of view as its implication is that Islamic tenets are not the basis for our actions.. Don’t get me wrong. We can support gays or anyone else if they are discriminated against in their jobs or if their rights are violated. But fornication is not a right and no good Muslim would willfully support something that serves to legitimize what is clearly prohibited in Islamic Sacred Law.

  4. Shukri, I did not say the text you quoted was incomplete but rather that when looking at an issue, we take the entirety of the context and available body of sources into consideration more than any single narration.

    I don’t believe it’s weak morality to be consistent and my position is not at all based on whether or not a group supports my beliefs. If we as Muslims appeal to the legal framework in America to observe our own religious rights, as we often do, irrespective of the the religious or secular arguments in opposition, then it’s inconsistent to use or impose religious arguments to deny similar rights to others. The issue here is one of civil marriage, which is not akin to fornication. A closer analogy for what you have mentioned would be anti-sodomy laws.

  5. The fact that many muslims today ignore is that these decisions were likely debated and decided long ago, several times, in our history. From previous Shariah, Prophet Yusuf (pbuh) ruled under a non-Muslim King, acting as governor over a mostly non-Muslim population. From our shariah, Muslims were in China as a minority and lived there for a long time.

    So it would be interesting to see what decisions they took. And yes, the hadith / saying quoted above is about letting some of your OWN commit homosexuality, not non-Muslim society at large. The saying is warning about letting your own Muslim community legalise homosexuality, as per my modest understanding (and I may be wrong).

    Mezba
    Read with Meaning

  6. Mezba, Islam is for all and not, for the true believer, something that is optionally followed whenever they feel like it. Do you think that Prophet Yusuf did whatever his subjects would have pleased and ignored the command of God? Do you think the Muslims in China were heavily involved in promoting what was forbidden in the religion? Such actions would be weakness of faith as they indicate that one does not really believe that the commands of God in the Quran and Prophetic teachings have any benefit and true faith is far from such thoughts.

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