On Tuesday May 26, 2009, we stood in Leimert Park, together with clergy of many faiths, awaiting our fate, awaiting a verdict on our humanity. Outrage, sorrow and a renewed sense of purpose swept across the crowd as news spread that the California Supreme Court had made a Solomon’s choice – upholding as legal the marriages entered into by same-sex couples last summer while preserving the travesty of justice that is Proposition 8. In effect, the Court had abandoned its constitutionally designated responsibility to protect a minority from having its most basic civil rights put up for populate vote.
Like the Israelites who received the blessing of Torah at Mount Sinai yet continued to wander in the wilderness before arriving in the Promised Land, LGBT Californians and our struggle for Marriage Equality live on. Another day of justice delayed, justice denied.
What a difference a day makes.
Last year, on May 15, 2009, the California Supreme Court courageously embraced its legacy as a leader in the pursuit of justice, equality and civil rights. The Court wisely recognized that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, have the fundamental right to official recognition of their families. The Court proclaimed that any restrictions on access to the civil institution of marriage are impermissible forms of discrimination prohibited by the California Constitution just as they did when, in 1948, California was one of the first states in the nation to overturn laws against interracial marriage.
It was the first of many historic days last year.
On June 17, 2008, California began issuing marriage licenses free of discrimination. The two of us stood that day in a long line that snaked in front of West Hollywood City Park. We will forever remember the sights and sounds of that day: Groups hovered in clusters, LGBT Jews under a Chuppah blowing the Shofar, parents with their children, traditional white wedding dresses dotted the lawn. Couples together for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years became unlikely newlyweds. One of us, the rabbi, officiated many weddings that beautiful day. The other and her wife served as witnesses, smiling so hard our faces hurt, singing Mazel Tov and Simin Tov until we grew hoarse.
The days between June 17 and November 4 filled California with a euphoria that transformed millions. 18,000 couples married. 36,000 people, each of us touching wider and wider concentric circles of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors. We became part of a giant wave of inclusion, justice and most of all hope. Our families were finally able to protect and honor one another with all of the same rights and responsibilities as loving couples everywhere.
Each day was a gift.
Then came Election Day. Some angry, some in shock, we went about our lives- walked our dogs, waited in traffic, worked, bought groceries, paid bills –wondering as we met neighbors, co-workers and strangers who among them had used the power of the ballot box to strip us of our civil rights. Parents struggled to explain to their children how some people, a slim majority, had decided their family did not deserve the rights and recognition as other families.
From then on, we began to count the days to the time when the California Supreme Court would restore our dignity and quality. If only the counting of those days had yielded the same blessings as the counting of the Omer.
Now that the Court has failed to live up to its Constitutional promise of equality and dignity for all, what can we as Jews do? We can roll up our sleeves and get to work. We can reach out to other communities of faith to explain why the calling of b’tzelem elohim requires us to recognize God’s image in all people. We can speak out from the bimah, in the press and on the streets about how our heterosexual marriages have been unaffected by the loving union of our LGBT friends, family and colleagues. We can tell the tale of how dangerous it is to give people the absolute power to strip a minority of its civil rights, knowing all too well the dark road down which a society can run if given such authority.
And we can remember that, although Proposition 8 passed with 52% of the voting public, young people of all races and religions opposed it in overwhelming numbers. May that generation carry us forward into a time when all people who love and seek to build a life together will have the full and equal legal right to do so.
Executive Director, Progressive Jewish Alliance
Rabbi Denise Eger
Congregation Kol Ami, President – Southern California Board of Rabbis