Shouldn’t American Jews, who collectively benefit from living in a free and open democratic country, be supportive of the “gay marriage bill” that gives equal rights to another minority group, regardless of how we feel about their lifestyle?
All questions related to homosexual orientation and religion are fraught these days, and it is perhaps necessary to state at the outset that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of G-d), and as a result must be treated with dignity and respect. Readers interested in one detailed presentation of the implications of that statement within the Orthodox Jewish community are invited to look at www.statementofprinciplesnya.org.
The question assumes that Jews should support any minority behavior, regardless of their moral opinions of that behavior. I reject this. Morally, we have an obligation to work toward the betterment of society, and pragmatically, it is not in our interest to be identified with behaviors that many Americans find objectionable. I do not believe, for example, that it is the obligation of Jews, or good policy for them, to oppose state laws banning dogfighting, even if dogfighting is a longstanding and popular custom in several minority American cultures.
The question of the appropriate attitude for Jews to take toward efforts to prohibit, permit, or mandate state recognition of same-sex marriage depends on a host of other, often nuanced issues. For example, one must decide the extent to which one feels bound by Jewish tradition’s univocal privileging of heterosexuality and opposition to same-sex sexual behavior; if one feels bound (as I do, and as I believe all Jews should), one must decide whether that opposition is rationally grounded or rather a chok (law with no humanly comprehensible basis); if one sees it as rationally grounded (as I do), one must decide whether it is better to oppose state recognition of same-sex marriage, or rather to advocate for the absolute secularization of marriage, meaning that the state should no longer recognize clergy as marriage officiants, and thus remove the hint of moral approval that recognizing marriage currently conveys, or even to advocate for the explicit disassociation of state-recognized marriage from sex, so that the legal advantages of marriage, in areas such as health-care and inheritance, should accrue to whomever a person chooses to recognize as their primary life-partner, even if that should be a parent, or a dear but erotically wholly unattractive friend, and even if one chooses to find one’s sexual fulfillment in a different relationship, and even if one chooses to have that other relationship solemnized religiously.
All this, of course, may beg the real question you were asking, which may be whether we should recognize homosexuals as a minority in the same way that Jews are a minority. That question is usually asked on the proposition that homosexuality is “not a choice”. But the comparison can be challenged on several grounds. First of all, Jews are a minority rooted both in biology and in choice, and from the perspective of American law, it is the aspects of Judaism that are choice-results, such as Sabbath observance or rejection of the Christian messiah, that are most important nowadays. Second, we have as yet no real scientific understanding of the phenomenon of homosexual orientation, especially where it coexists, as it generally does, with the capacity for a physical heterosexual relationship that is physically indistinguishable from standard physical heterosexual relationships. Identical twin studies, and studies of sexual fluidity in women, have shown both that sexual orientation is not genetically determined (although it is genetically influenced, as are all human characteristics), and that it is not necessarily fixed for life (although it is not clear that it can be changed volitionally).
Despite all this, a case can be made that it is both proper and wise for Jews who believe that homosexual behavior is morally objectionable to support the state recognition of same-sex marriage. But reasonable and responsible Jews might well not find that case compelling. As the question does not ask for my opinion on the issue, but rather my evaluation of a particular approach, this seems to me a sufficient answer.
This is a good question and a very sensitive one. It is sensitive by virtue of the fact that since the Torah’s command in Leviticus (18:22) forbidding homosexual relations as an “abomination,” there has been little to no opposition to it in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam until the past few decades. That is to say, we are still carrying the cultural, historical, and sociological mindsets from the past, which can be very difficult to overcome.
For the Conservative Movement, as well as the other liberal religious streams, which accept psychology, anthropology, sociology, and other sciences as legitimate sources to include in religious decision-making, the acceptance and support of gay and lesbian rights has been widely accepted since the 1980’s. By 1991, but the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism had accepted a resolution that would “support full civil equality for gays and lesbians in our national life,” as well as welcome gays and lesbians as members of synagogues and deplore an violence against them in society.
This was a step that acknowledged the basic human dignity of every person, no matter his or her sexual orientation. Therefore, the Conservative Movement, in 1991, resolved that Jews should be supportive of gay rights on the national level, which would presumably include marriage.
Yet, the marriage part was left a bit awkward, i.e., for Jewish gays and lesbians. The resolution did not support gays and lesbians to marry because of the Torah’s sexual prohibition. In other words, we may support and respect gays and lesbians, but we are asking them to remain celibate.
In the time since this resolution, society has attended to the question of homosexuality more and more. There is now a strong consensus among experts in human sexual development that homosexual orientation, like heterosexual orientation, certainly results from nature, in addition to nurture. Most health professionals agree with the following statement of the American Psychiatric Association (Fact Sheet, 1993):
“There is no evidence that any treatment can change a homosexual person’s deep seated sexual feelings for others of the same sex. Clinical experience suggests that any person who seeks conversion therapy may be doing so because of social bias that has resulted in internalized homophobia… Whereas homosexuality per se implies no impairment of judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities, American Psychiatric Association calls on all international health organizations, and individual psychiatrists in other countries, to urge repeal in their own country of legislation that penalizes homosexual acts by consenting adults in private. And further the APA calls on these organizations to do all that is possible to decrease the stigma related to homosexuality wherever and whenever it may occur.”
In 2006, the Conservative Movement passed legal responsa on homosexuality. These responsa differed as to whether to permit marriage for gays and lesbians (one clearly did). Despite these differences, a new, unequivocal resolution was passed in 2011 by the Rabbinical Assembly, standing united in opposition to discrimination against anyone based on sexual identity and specifically against legal discrimination against gays and lesbians “in areas such as civil recognition of their relationships, health care and social security” (see whole resolution www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/resolution-support-equal-rights-and-inclusion-gay-lesbian-bisexual-and-transgender-glbt-person?tp=213).
As Jews, we know what it is to be vulnerable and alien in a society. We emphasize this each year at Passover and remember it daily in our liturgy. Both our personal and collective identities as Jews is inexorably linked to the affirmation that we must never mistreat or belittle those who are outcast. This is not an affirmation of a feeling of charity or of love. We are meant to take care of others for tzedekah or tzedek (“justice”), which means that it is simply the right thing to do. Whether Democrat or Republican, we must stand up on the behalf of the stranger, the outcast, the vulnerable, and those without rights, because we were slaves, strangers, and outcasts. With regard to the national policies surrounding equal rights and, in this case, rights for gays and lesbians, the Conservative Movement has been outspoken in support of gay and lesbian rights in the debate.
The gay population has been discriminated against, misunderstood and many myths about gay people have been perpetuated based, solely, on their sexuality.
Contemporary research indicates that gay people have as solid a marriage as straight couples, their ability to parent is not adversely affected by their sexuality and they are, in every way, solid citizens deserving of every right as the straight population.
The reason there is so much animosity has to do with a line in Torah that says
13 If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death -- their bloodguilt is upon them.
From this generations have persecuted gay people.
However, research indicates that being gay is not a choice. It is built in hard wiring in the brain just as being straight is. We simply cannot and must not judge or discriminate gays from straights. To do so flies in the face of the notion that everyone is created in the image of God.
Too many people are concerned about what other people do sexually. They believe that they are being righteous and the holders or morality when they discriminate or try to 'cure' gays. However, do these same people feel correct in persecuting people with tatoos? After all, does the Torah not say, "You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. (Lev 19:28)"?
Indeed, the reality is that sexuality is somehow more important than anything in some people's minds. Perhaps they are afraid of their own sexuality. Maybe they feel homosexual urges as well and actively try to repress them by persecuting gay people. The reasons are varied.
But one thing that should not be varied is a Jewish response to gay rights. There is nothing immoral about being gay and there is nothing wrong with people who love each other wanting to commit their lives to each other. In my opinion, gay marriage is a Jewish issue not because it is immoral, but because too many self-righteous people somehow deem it to be and that leads to discrimination. That is the only Jewish issue, here.
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