Jewish Journal

Two out of state rabbis offer two opinions on anti-gay-marriage Prop. 8

Posted on Nov. 3, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Op-Ed: Prop 8 goes against God's love for every person

By Rabbi David Ellenson

NEW YORK (JTA)--As a rabbi, I would urge all residents of California to vote No on Proposition 8, the state ballot measure that would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.

In voting No on Prop 8, Californians would be upholding a fundamental right of the California constitution and issuing a moral, religious proclamation about fairness and equal rights of all persons in our nation and the larger world.

When my 15-year-old daughter and her high school classmates performed "The Laramie Project" some years ago--a play about the 1998 murder of a gay student, Matthew Shepherd, near that Wyoming city--I thought of the revulsion our society so often displays toward gays and lesbians that at times has led to the type of violence Shepherd suffered.

I am painfully aware that this attitude stems from the rule contained in Leviticus 18:22 that defines homosexuality as an "abomination."

The power played by this biblical passage in shaping the attitudes of so many--particularly those who define themselves as religious--is undeniable. This may be why a study conducted four years ago by the Pew Center found that those with a high level of religious commitment oppose gay marriage by a margin of 80 percent to 12 percent.

The Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, which often has taken the lead in attacking same-sex unions, celebrated this finding. Indeed, religious fundamentalists generally have claimed a monopoly on the stance that religion takes toward same-sex marriage.

Yet I refuse to allow such negative judgments regarding gays and lesbians to go unchallenged from a religious perspective. As Catholic scholar Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza has maintained in her powerful book "In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins," the divinity of any passage in Scripture that diminishes the humanity of another - as the one in Leviticus does - surely can be questioned.

The thrust of one such passage should not override an overarching biblical ethos that teaches us that God loves and affirms the full humanity of each human being.

I see no reason why religious believers like me have any less right than my more fundamentalist brothers and sisters to speak for religion in the public square. Votes against same-sex unions discriminate against gays and lesbians and run counter to the ethos of love that the Bible teaches. It also discriminates against those of us whose religious beliefs mandate us to perform same-sex weddings.

As a rabbi, I applaud the California Supreme Court for affirming the legal right of same-sex couples to marry, thereby asserting that gays and lesbians should receive the same rights, dignities and privileges afforded to heterosexual couples. It is unconscionable that many rights heterosexual couples take for granted are inaccessible to homosexual men and women. Same-sex couples display the same capacity that heterosexual couples do to create warm and loving relationships, and those blessed with children surely possess the same ability to care for and nurture their children that heterosexual couples do.

The time has come for such recognition to guide our culture, and religious people should not be hesitant in stating this truth - that gays and lesbians are human beings created in the image of God, are no less holy than their heterosexual brothers and sisters and deserving of full rights, including marriage.

When the day arrives that this truth is completely fulfilled, no more Matthew Shepherds will be scorned or tortured. By voting No on Proposition 8, the voters of California will proclaim that all persons regardless of sexual orientation are equally loved by God, and will allow righteousness to pour down like a mighty stream.

Rabbi David Ellenson is the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Op-Ed: Calif. proposition would violate Torah, undermine traditional values

By Rabbi Avi Shafran

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Along with the new Jewish year we welcomed a new cycle of Torah readings. For Californians, the first post-Sukkot Sabbath reading was particularly timely, coming as it did a mere 10 days before the 2008 elections. It should have given pause to Jewish opponents of Proposition 8, the measure aimed at amending California's constitution to enshrine the traditional definition of marriage in state law.

An assortment of arguments can be made in support of Proposition 8--from the deep and abiding connection of marriage with procreation, to the healthful effects for children of having both a mother and a father, to the endangerment of religious freedom lurking in societal sanction of same-sex unions, which will all too easily be used to tar conscientious objectors as unlawful discriminators.

Such arguments aside, though, Jews with respect for their religious tradition will perceive in the first chapters of Genesis the clear template for marriage: the first man and the first woman. As the text in Genesis 2:24 declares: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cling to his wife [literally 'his woman'] ..."

In fact, the Torah, both in its written dimension (what we call the Jewish Bible) and its oral one (the "rabbinic" material that determines Jewish law), goes on to forbid the sexual union of two men. (The issue of female same-sex unions, while in a different category, is prohibited as well.)

What is more, and here more to the point, societal "officializing" of such unions--i.e. calling them "marriages"--is particularly condemned by unimpeachable and authoritative Jewish sources. They consider a society that "writes marriage documents for men" to be endangering its very existence.

A Jewish case can certainly be made for a libertarian approach to matters of personal behavior, for a "live and let live" attitude that for all its morally objectionable yield can help ensure the protection of religious and other fundamental freedoms. In any event, the behavioral issue is legally moot; the highest U.S. court has declared unconstitutional laws that criminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults.

Proposition 8, however, is not about legislating personal behavior--be it same-sex, multi-partner or incestuous, all of which have their proponents. Rather it is about preventing a twisting of the time-honored and timeless definition of marriage, a definition whose upholding the rabbis of the Talmud considered to be one of humanity's saving graces.

We Jews as a people have a tendency toward "progressive" movements and tend to welcome all societal change as inherently healthy and good. Some such change, of course, is indeed so, and Jews can be rightly proud of having been at the forefront of social causes like racial equality and employees' rights. But headlong rushes to a "more enlightened future" have landed some Jews in some unsavory places, like the forefront of communism in the early decades of the previous century. Or, centuries earlier, among the Hellenists of ancient Greece. Or even earlier, dancing in celebration of a golden calf.

Our pining for progress comes from a holy place, the deep and inherent Jewish desire for a perfected world. But the secret and essence of Judaism is its conviction that we are not the judges of good and bad, but rather look to the Torah for its guidance.

"We will do and [then perhaps] hear [i.e. understand]," declared our ancestors when they were given the Torah.

Our mission is not to pronounce what we mortals think is good but rather to accept the decisions of the Divine.

Much of the world considers reformulating the meaning of marriage to represent progress. Many Jews, as in past "progressive" movements, are giddily jumping on the burnished bandwagon.

Jews, though, who understand what it means to have been chosen by God to stand for holiness, which the Talmud teaches has a primary meaning of "separation from immorality,"--know that all that glistens to a liberal eye is not gold, or even good. Those Judaism-aware Jews who live in California will, against the societal tide, vote Nov. 4 to have their state retain the true meaning of marriage.

Rabbi Avi Shafran is the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.

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