Rabbi Fred Guttman is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, NC. The synagogue is at the forefront of LGBT inclusion, especially in the South, with its annual LGBT Shabbat and Seder. He is guest blogging in response to the most recent ruling to overturn Prop 8.
The struggle for LGBT equality is at the forefront of the civil rights movement. We see discrimination that is either condoned or approved by local and federal government on a range of topics from employment to marriage and immigration to adoption. Thankfully, we are beginning to see progress made, but there is still much work to be done.
This week Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8, California’s ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional.
The American Foundation for Equal Rights recruited Ted Olson, a conservative, and David Boies, a liberal, to serve as the lead lawyers in a federal court challenge to the amendment. Prop 8 campaign leaders and extreme right-wing organizations like the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family succeeded in denying Americans the opportunity to watch this historic trial on television.
Ted Olson, the legendary attorney who teamed up with one-time adversary David Boies to successfully lead this case. You might remember them as the tow lead attorneys in the Bush v Gore case after the election in 2000. Olsen said it better than anyone when he said:
“If there was ever a trial in the history of our country that the American people should have seen, it was this one.”
The ruling states “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite- sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. (Full text)”
Proposition 8, adopted by ballot initiative in 2008, effectively denies gay and lesbian individuals the same rights afforded heterosexual couples under the law. Judge Walker’s decision reaffirms the strong commitment to equality upon which our nation is built.
At Temple Emanuel of Greensboro, we are desirous to communicate that gays and lesbians are truly welcome, not merely tolerated. There will be no asterisks, no hidden messages. We will sincerely welcome all who wish to explore the Jewish journey towards spirituality and social justice.
The issue of LBGT rights is front and center on our agenda as reform Jews.
We will strenuously oppose Defense of Marriage laws and amendments to state constitutions.
We will continue to support efforts to provide the legal mechanisms necessary in order that all LGBT couples who wish to enter into a relationship whether one calls it a marriage or a civil union will have ALL of the same legal rights that heterosexual couples currently enjoy.
We will continue to work for passage of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in Congress.
We will continue to advocate on a state level for acts such as the School Violence Prevention Act and initiatives that would expand the protection of the state hate crimes law to gays and lesbians.
When it comes to weddings and marriage, Judaism is very specific. Traditionally, a Jewish wedding can really take place in one of two ways. The first way is to sign a Ketubah, a Jewish marriage document. Technically, at our weddings, after the Ketubah is signed, the couple is already married and there is no reason to continue on with a ceremony. Obviously, however, most do.
The ceremony itself has two main parts in it. The first part is the exchange of rings, where the couple says to one another, “Behold you are consecrated to me as my wife or my husband in keeping with the tradition of Moses in Israel.” And the second is the traditional seven marriage blessings, which are said by the Rabbi or the Cantor. These seven blessings are some two thousand years old and ask that the couple is experiencing maybe like that of the original couple in the Garden of Eden and that that joy should be experienced in the city of Jerusalem.
I am forbidden by North Carolina State Law to officiate at a wedding where I have not been presented with a marriage license. I have to sign off on the marriage license and send it to the Register of Deeds here in Guilford County. However, I want to stress that from a Jewish perspective, just having a marriage license is really not a Jewish wedding, nor does it constitute a Jewish marriage.
I mention this because I honestly do believe that there is an issue of Church-State separation here. The State may give legal status to a civil union between a husband and a wife, but it is solely our religious tradition that can give to a Jewish couple a sanctification of their union. As a matter of fact, the word for marriage, Kiddushim, means just that, sanctification.
Events of the past week have convinced me more than ever that we as Jews need to uphold and extend even further the separation of Church and State, especially as it applies to marriage. It is time for the government to get out of the “marriage business.” The government’s job should be to protect the rights of American Citizens to enter into contractual unions with one another, regardless of sexual preference. Marriage should be left to the realm of religious institutions and clergy. For those who want some sort of non-sectarian union, there is always the option of having such a ceremony performed by a judge or a Justice of the Peace.
Finally, I wanted to say that, from a Jewish perspective, this is not only an issue of Church and State separation and the protection of the rights of American Citizens to enter into contractual unions with one another. As Jews, we are guided by the very basic belief that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim, “in God’s own image.” As Rabbi David Saperstein said in Congressional testimony in support of Economic Non-Discrimination Act, “Regardless of context, discrimination against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear, or hatred is inconsistent with this fundamental belief. We oppose discrimination against all individuals, including gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every one of us.”
We will reject what we consider to be selective reading of biblical texts, which in our opinion often comes from a homophobic perspective.
We condemn the reading of the Hebrew bible to support homophobic positions which would isolate homosexuals for special admonition.
Like heterosexual men and women, LGBT’s are God’s children, capable of bringing light and love to a planet whose darkness is caused not only by sin, but also misguided judgmentally.
Finally as Jews, we remember that some sixty years ago, the Nazi war machine killed 6,000,000 Jews and three hundred thousand Roma or gypsies. Let us not forget however that eight years prior to the mass murder of Jews, homosexuals and people of special needs were gassed in an effort to “purify” the Aryan race.
Our society often says the fashionable slogan of “Never Again,” but do we really mean it?
So we know, of course, that this decision will be reviewed by other Courts, including in all likelihood, the U.S. Supreme Court. Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage launched a counter-attack to rally the religious right, calling Walker’s decision a sign of a “Soviet-style” government takeover of marriage, leading the way as conservative groups stroke a backlash against the decision. Apparently, those against the Prop 8 decision will stop at nothing to delegitimize this decision before it ever reaches the Supreme Court.
And we know that the long march to full marriage equality will not be uninterrupted; there will be victories such as we celebrate today as well as setbacks. But it becomes clearer every day that we are now, finally and blessedly, on a road that is destined to end with justice for gay and lesbian Americans.
In a statement this week, the national leadership of the Reform Movement wrote: “We will continue to stand with the LGBT community in California, and all who cherish justice, as this case makes its way through the Court system. We are proud of the leadership roles played by so many Reform Movement rabbis and activists, and we stand ready to work with them as we move forward.”
So as Reform Jews, we welcome this week’s crucial ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker, holding that California’s ban on same-sex marriage is a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.
As Reform Jews, we believe that when we first are able to see the beauty in others, only then will our eyes be opened and we will be able to see that beauty within ourselves. When we first are able to be kind to others, only then will we be able to open up and be kind to ourselves. When we first are able to forgive others, only then will we be able to open up and forgive ourselves. In our world as God made it. Let us cherish the fact that there are those of different religions and races and those of different sexual persuasions.
Friends when we look at others who might be different from us, let us cherish their difference and appreciate their diversity. When we see them as beautiful holy manifestations of the divine, we are seeing them as God sees them!