A Muslim-American Reflection on the Civil-Union Ban

My Road to Wisconsin Was Paved With Good Intentions:
A Muslim-American Reflection on the Civil-Union Ban

By Ambreen Tariq

It’s 2a.m., I pray Ishaa and crawl into my sleeping bag on a cold Milwaukee floor.  After a long day of canvassing and phone-banking I start to drift off to sleep when I hear Mary ask, “Ambreen, you’re a practicing Muslim, is it strange for you to be here? Doing…this?”

On November 7th, 2006, Wisconsin voters saw an amendment on their ballot that proposed banning civil unions.  It read:
“Marriage. Shall section 13 of article XIII of the Constitution be created to provide that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state and that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state?”

This amendment not only proposed denying marriage rights to non-heterosexual couples, but it also endangered many legal protections for all unmarried partnerships.  A legally recognized marriage confers upon the couple over a thousand rights and protections.  The passage of this amendment, however, would permanently deny many of these rights for anyone who is not married. For example, a partner will not have the automatic right to make funeral arrangements for their loved one, they will not have access to their partner’s health benefits, nor will they have visitation rights in medical facilities.

It was a simple question, did I feel strange being here as a Muslim? Did I feel strange doing this? And what was this? This was my commitment to social justice, as a Muslim, as an Indian-American, as a person who believes in human rights. This was my desire to prevent the government from dictating the expression of faith and sexuality. Although I believe that homosexual acts are not permissible in Islam, I do not want the government to espouse or express these religious views.  Such entanglement with religion is dangerous.  After all, marriage is culturally sacred, and for many, it is a recognition of a monogamous commitment between two people in the eyes of God.  The state should not dictate the nature of this process.  It is that simple.

I went to Milwaukee to work with Fair Wisconsin’s campaign against this amendment.  However, my journey to Wisconsin was burdened by many difficult experiences I had with other Muslims regarding this issue.  Although some Muslim peers I spoke with were receptive to the idea of supporting equal rights for the Gay community, many were vehemently against any such notion.  These individuals disagreed with my opposition to this amendment on the basis that I was not only supporting a sinful lifestyle, but also perpetuating it by fighting to legalize civil unions.  One individual even went as far as to say that I should change my name to a non-Muslim one while in Milwaukee so my actions do not soil the reputation of our Muslim community.

Rather than damage the public perception of our character, I feel that I, along with many others, am helping to create a better image for Muslims in the United Sates. For this reason, I insist that my friend Mary is wrong in her assumptions; it is not strange for a practicing Muslim to support gay rights in this country.  Such activism does not perpetuate homosexuality, it simply expresses our devotion to legal equity for all.  Islam has a commitment to justice and as practicing Muslims we must be consistent in exercising it.  We cannot support equal rights and insist government accountability only when it comes to the Patriot Act or Guantanamo Bay.  The United States government is a secular democracy and proclaims that the equality and dignity of all individuals are protected under its constitution.  As members of this society, it is our duty to hold the government to these standards regarding people of all religions, genders, ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and economic status.

Today, some Muslims are content with civil-union bans because they identify with certain values of these restrictions and because they do not see such a ban largely affecting their communities.  However, tomorrow could be a day where the government, under the same authority, bans Hijab.  Reflecting a trend from European countries, many Americans could proclaim that they distrust Hijab and feel that it is oppressive towards women.  Regardless of how we as Muslims feel, the argument could be made that aspects of our lifestyle contradict some values of the American majority.  In the same way those seeking civil unions are struggling at this moment, our lifestyle could also be subject to a legal popularity contest.  What will we do then?

Much to the dismay of Mary, myself, and other civil libertarians around the country, the amendment to ban civil unions passed in Wisconsin as well as in many other states.  Various communities of faith view this as a victory.  But the truth is, there can be no victory in the limitation of an entire community’s legal rights. As minorities in the United States, Muslims must recognize the passage of this amendment as a great loss.  It is a loss for minority rights as well as secular democracy.  Recognizing this while proactively opposing government entanglement with religion will allow us to truly convey our Islamic commitment to social justice and righteousness.

originally published at http://www.altmuslim.com