Reform Rabbis Weigh in on Marriage Equality



As marriage equality legislation advances in Washington state, New Jersey and Maryland, pro-equality faith voices have been making their voices heard at legislative hearings – and Reform Jews have wasted no time in speaking up. Throughout the testimony by members of the Reform Movement, two themes emerge: the holiness (kiddushin) to be found within same-sex relationships and the importance of marriage equality to the religious liberty of Reform Jews. This approach echoes the observations of a Salon.com writer who, in observing the success of LGBT equality activists in achieving a majority of Americans in support of marriage equality, noted: “This is the lesson that the gay revolution holds for any progressive movement – not by asking for ‘tolerance.’ They didn’t ask people to accept gay marriage by holding their moral noses. Rather, they set out to change people’s minds about what is moral” (emphasis mine).

Let’s take a look at some examples of what our rabbis have had to say about marriage equality (after the jump):

Rabbi Jonathan Singer of Temple Beth Am of Seattle, Washington, argued that marriage equality is not just important to the thousands of same-sex households waiting for recognition and the protection of the law, but also as a matter of religious liberty (emphasis mine):

In the Jewish tradition we call marriage kiddushin, an act of holiness. Fifteen years ago I decided I wanted to officiate at marriages for same-sex couples. My synagogue, which is one of the largest synagogues in the state, agreed to do so. But we know that this is still a second-class status, so I am here to bear witness to the fact that I along with many other religious representatives believe that the state is discriminating not only against same-sex couples, but against the freedom of our religious expression.

“We along with the Seattle Jewish Federation, which represents a wide spectrum of Jews in the state of Washington, and the National Reform Movement — the largest expression of American Judaism — embrace the passing of this bill. None of us want to impose our perspective on others, but let this be a year that we soften our hearts to families and religious leaders who are searching for freedom, wishing to be treated equally by the state. Let others make their decisions in the marketplace of religious ideas and freedom. Let us pass marriage equality for all.”

In New Jersey, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative rabbis all testified on behalf of marriage equality. There were too many Reform rabbis testifying on behalf of religious liberty and equality to include all of their testimony (which you can find on video here), but here are some highlights (emphasis mine throughout):

Rabbi Mark Kaiserman of Temple Emanu-El of Livingston NJ:

It was said several times today that people of faith oppose this bill. I just want to remind our committee that I’m a person of faith and all of these very many clergy from across denominations are all deeply-held people of faith, and every one of us is completely in favor of this bill. We have recognized in so many couples that there is holiness and beauty in them – in heterosexual couples and in same-sex couples – and we recognize the capacity to give and love in so many parents – same-sex parents, opposite-sex parents, single parents – and despite biased studies that are touted out to protect religious bigotry we want you to remember as you make these decisions, people of faith are in favor of this bill. Don’t let other faiths dominate and stop us from practicing our beliefs. Same-sex couples can create a relationship of holiness. We hope that you’ll allow that to happen in the state of New Jersey.”

Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom of Scotch Plains, NJ, and co-chair of Reform Jewish Voice (RJV) of NJ:

“I will still perform kiddushim, what we as Jews call marriage, the sanctification of the union between two people who have committed to love each other in perpetuity. It is what I do as a rabbi.  And the state in no way tells me who I can and cannot do that ceremony for. But I do act in partnership with the state when I celebrate a marriage — when I sign a certificate of marriage. And I have signed certificates of civil unions, and it’s really not the same act. I hope that this time, the Senate and Assembly of the state of New Jersey will find the way to allow me to perform this act in partnership with the state of New Jersey, to celebrate the holiness that I know I have seen in these unions between people who do love each other.

Testimony from Maryland rabbis took place only a few days ago. At the Maryland state house, Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation observed that marriage equality would not violate the religious liberty of any religious groups. Moreover, she testified to the similarities between her own wedding ceremony and those of heterosexual couples (emphasis mine):

As a member of the clergy, I would never support a law which abrogated my right to stay true to the teachings of my religious tradition. The fact that the legislation we are discussing today upholds the right of all clergy and all religious institutions to refuse to sanctify unions they deem religiously inappropriate is essential.

At the same time, I urge you to support this legislation because while people of good faith may disagree over the holiness of gay and lesbian unions that disagreement belongs in the churches, mosques and synagogues, not the State House. Our country, founded on democratic principles of human rights and human dignity, must not continue to deny some of its citizens the rights it approves for others.

More than a decade ago, my partner and I were united in a Jewish ceremony. We were blessed to have three different rabbis, a cantor; all of our parents and siblings participate in that ceremony with us and sanctify our love. In our wedding ceremony we affirmed the Jewish values of commitment and dedication that are at the core of every stable, loving family, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist, Hindu, straight or gay.  After the ceremony we danced, we laughed and we ate, just like every wedding I have since conducted as a Rabbi.

Image courtesy of YouTube.com/BlueJersey.com

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Noah Baron

About Noah Baron

Noah Baron is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. He is from Princeton Junction, NJ, and a graduate of Columbia University.

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