Imagine being treated like a second-class citizen. Denied rights based on the qualities you inherited at birth. Forced to segregate yourself to avoid violence, discrimination, and intolerance. Enduring a legal and political system that excluded you, told you that you were not protected, because a majority of the population surrounding you didn’t believe you had a right to exist. For many in the Jewish Community, this doesn’t have to be imagined- it actually happened in the not-too-distant past (and still occurs for many).
Today, another group of Jews is experiencing this same exclusion every day. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Jewish community in the state of California has been told that they are second-class citizens. That their sexual orientation, which is not chosen- but inherent at birth, is cause for the denial of over 1000 different rights that our heterosexual Jewish friends enjoy (Read about which ones HERE). The courts have repeatedly refused to protect the LGBTQ minority. In 2008, the passage of Prop. 8 put the rights that we have to protect our families into the hands of a majority that does not like us.
Today there is hope in the state of California for the LGBTQ Jewish community and their friends and family. Federal Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage (Proposition 8), saying the voter-approved rule violates the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians. Not just the constitution of the State of California, but the rights guaranteed to all Americans in the constitution of the United States of America.
“This ruling is an incredible step forward in the history of the LGBTQ movement; a Federal Judge has affirmed the validity of families that want to provide for each other, a principle that Judaism upholds. The multitude of Jewish LGBTQ residents of California are one step closer to achieving full equality.” said Asher Gellis, Executive Director of JQ International, a non-profit organization based out of Los Angeles that works to create safe space for LGBTQ Jews and their friends and family.
The judge made this ruling based on whether proposition 8 violated the constitutional rights of equal protection and due process under the law. According to this judge (and many in the LGBTQ Jewish community), Proposition 8 did violate those rights. Here are some of the points made by the judge about his decision:
THE COSTS OF MARRIAGE
“…Proposition 8 increases costs and decreases wealth for same-sex couples because of increased tax burdens, decreased availability of health insurance and higher transactions costs to secure rights and obligations typically associated with marriage. Domestic partnership reduces but does not eliminate these costs….” (PAGES 85-94)
MARRIAGE AS A TOOL FOR PROCREATION
“The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry.” (PAGES 109-114)
MARRIAGE AND RELIGION/MORALS
“Conjecture, speculation and fears are not enough. Still less will the moral disapprobation of a group or class of citizens suffice, no matter how large the majority that shares that view. The evidence demonstrated beyond serious reckoning that Proposition 8 finds support only in such disapproval. As such, Proposition 8 is beyond the constitutional reach of the voters or their representatives.” (PAGES 132-135)
These last two elements of the ruling will surely upset religious individuals throughout the state (and nation) who oftentimes vote based on their morals. The proponents of Prop 8 state, including Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage say that “With a stroke of his pen, Judge Walker has overruled the votes and values of 7 million Californians who voted for marriage as one man and one woman.” The separation between church/temple and state is clearly a hot-button item in this debate.
Quite a bit is happening in the LGBTQ Jewish world to meander that very debate. In June, a historic convening took place in Berkeley in which close to 100 individuals from around the country assembled to discuss the next steps for the movement. Representatives from the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox communities sat in the same room as those identifying as post or trans-denominational. The entire spectrum of the LGBTQ and straight community attempted to weigh the same contentious rights and principles. How can we create a safe environment for LGBTQ Jews and their friends and family?
Next week, the conversation continues as the World Congress of GLBT Jews will assemble in Los Angeles to share ideas, research, and thoughts while celebrating their identity on an international level. Surely, the decision from Judge Vaughn will color many of the conversations. On an international level, 76 countries declare it “illegal” to be gay. Israel is actually listed as one of the most progressive countries in the world with policies even American Gay Rights advocates would envy such as open military service for LGBTQ Israelis.
It seems pertinent that both of these historic events are taking place in California.
Recently, a Statement of Principles was released by a group of Orthodox rabbis regarding their stance on homosexuality (which when reposted by yours truly, happened to be the most popular & commented-on post in the Jewish Journal’s LGBTQ Blog called “Oy Gay”).
The responses within the Jewish LGBTQ community have been varied, with many feeling impressed by the openness and compassion requested by the Orthodox Rabbis and many wishing they would go further. There are also many in the Jewish community that still view homosexuality as a “shanda” (scandal).
Regardless of whether readers supported or disagreed with the statement, it was clear that the issue struck a chord. Conversations about what to do with our LGBTQ brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, parents and friends are happening all around the Shabbat Dinner table. For many, the fact that these conversations are taking place is in itself an achievement.
When speaking about this issue with a dear friend of mine Rabbi Amitai Adler, he pointed out something that really stuck with me:
“Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel used to say: the world is sustained by three things: by truth, by justice, and by peace, as it is written [Zechariah 8], ‘Truth and judgments of peace shall you adjudicate within your gates.’” It seems like today’s verdict certainly serves all three. And perhaps what is lacking in the Orthodox Statement of Principles is that it may seek peace, and it is perhaps motivated in part by truth, but it achieves little actual justice.
It is perhaps this reason that many LGBTQ Jews and their allies will see today’s ruling as a step forward that gives hope.
I personally hope that the continued debate around this issue in the state of California, on a national scale, and within the Jewish community is handled through a lens infused by the qualities we possess as children of Abraham: mercy and Gimilut Hasadim (acts of loving kindness).
May the Jewish Community realize that this is not just an advocacy issue; the protection of all families is a Jewish issue.
Janelle K. Eagle is an openly gay Jewish woman living in Los Angeles. She currently works at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to the Jewish Journal’s LGBTQ Blog “Oy Gay.” You can find more of her writing and credits at www.journeywithjanelle.com.