After the stunning decision on August 4 by a San Francisco Federal court judge, no issue will be as volatile on the American political scene before the November elections as the issue of whether states have the power to restrict legal marriages to heterosexual couples.
I just know there’s going to be a deluge of television and radio spots, fliers mailed to our homes, email in our in boxes, and all other means of mass communications. This issue will enter our homes and consciousnesses in many ways.
And here is one from me!
When I think of what my Jewish rabbinic response would be to those who advocate denying marriage equality to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, I consider three important values that emanate from our tradition:
First: “Praised are You, Eternal our God, sovereign of the world, who has made me in the Divine Image.” We offer these words of worship every morning, reminding us of the supreme human value, emanating from our tradition, that each human being, regardless of sexual orientation, skin color, nationality, or belief system, was created through divine power and authority.
But they say more than that. They also confirm that each of us possesses – within – part of the substance of God.
It is only right and just, therefore, that we accord each member of the human family the privileges of marriage and family love. For so we humans have been made to give and receive love, and to perpetuate our species through life affirming parenthood.
Further, we read in the Torah a passage that is brief, but that contains the strength of our human bonds with one another. The words “love your neighbor as yourself” from the book of Leviticus confirm the demand that we must treat each person equally. These words form the basis of what we call “The Holiness Code”, and, accordingly, the call to love our neighbors and not hate them shows us the way in which we – ourselves – become holy people.
Finally, the Torah demands no less than thirty-six times that we care for the widow, the orphan, the deprived, and the stranger, and the books of the Prophets of Israel preach essentially this important value.
We Jews know the heart of those who have been persecuted, having ourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. Through our history, we know how it feels to be enslaved, and to have equality only as a dream and not a reality. And since we understand the heart of the stranger, it is up to us to empathize with the victims of bigotry and prejudice, and strive to eliminate persecution.
The verdict in Perry v Schwarzenegger, the official name of the case whose verdict was announced on August 4, was also a shining example of the upholding of a simple, American value. That is the concept that the majority of voters may not tyrannize and discriminate against any minority when it comes to the area of human rights. As Jews we know intimately the feeling of discrimination based purely on being part of a minority, and it is, therefore, our responsibility to be part of the solution of this problem. Ours is the duty to struggle on behalf of those who are subject each day to social and legal disabilities.
Yes, before us we have both Jewish and American calls to create and maintain a society that is just and fair, and prejudices based on sexual orientation have no place in that society. And I invite you to continue to be part of this struggle, this movement.
In this week’s Torah portion (Re’ei, Deuteronomy 14:29), we read about our responsibility to allocate part of our bounty with the Levite (to whom no land was apportioned), the orphan, the widow, and the stranger among us. None of these can earn the benefits of life for themselves, and so we share with them. And not only must they eat but they must be satisfied. Then God shall bless us.
And in Hertz’s commentary on the Torah, he notes this: “The purpose for the poor tithe was to teach the salutary doctrine that man’s possessions are only truly blessed when he permits others to join with him in their enjoyment.”
So we infer that it is up to us to share the benefits of God’s world with all those who have been persecuted in their lives, and then our lives will have meaning.
It takes an act of courage to confront and challenge those who would oppose equality. But I believe that each one of us has the strength to make a stand on behalf of all those who have created families, or who wish to create families, where love and generosity should be rewarded with the rights and privileges of marriage.