Los Angeles rabbis respond to Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8
The Jewish Journal invited rabbis from throughout Los Angeles to contribute their thoughts and reactions to the Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage. The following is a sampling of what we have received and we will be adding more as we receive more responses.
Rabbi Ken Chasen, Leo Baeck Temple
I will always remember where I was on the day that marriage equality won its defining victories in the Supreme Court.
The news flashed across the screen on my phone as my congregants and I were ascending toward Jerusalem. I took the microphone on our tour bus, announced the rulings, and was overcome with chills as the exhilarating sound of joyful cheers erupted spontaneously. Very suddenly, the 7500 miles that separated us from Los Angeles seemed to disappear… just as a new layer of meaning in our pilgrimage to the Holy City was born.
To be sure, there is so much more work to be done. There are so many states in the U.S. where same gender marriage remains under legal assault. There are so many persistent forms of discrimination that continue to diminish the character of our nation. But today, we can celebrate this reminder of the power found in the relentless yearning to affirm all of humanity as creatures fashioned in God’s image. Could there be a more redemptive message to find its way to a group of Jewish travelers headed into Jerusalem?
I have made the uphill trek into this golden city many times in my life, but this was an arrival that I will never forget. May this renewal of hope that the longest battles for justice can ultimately be won lift us ever higher – both at home in America and in our people’s long-treasured home.
Rabbi Laura Geller, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Close to fifteen years ago I officiated at the Jewish wedding of two lesbian friends. Though legal marriage was not an option, they wanted their relationship to be blessed by our tradition. Both of them, thoughtful and serious students of Judaism, wanted to create a ritual that was both authentically Jewish and at the same time acknowledged the difference between a heterosexual and a lesbian ceremony. They carefully reflected on each part of the traditional wedding ceremony, determining what should be included, what needed to be changed and what should be added. Years later they reaffirmed their vows in another ceremony when gay marriage was legal in California. It was in their second ceremony that I first truly understood the significance of the words: “By the power vested in me by the State of California.”
Just last month I officiated at the Jewish wedding of other lesbian friends, also serious and thoughtful students of Judaism. Though legal marriage was again not an option because of Prop 8, planning their wedding with them was a very different experience from my first. They chose to have a ceremony that was exactly like every other wedding ceremony: same words, same blessings, same symbols. The only change was that the references to “ bride and groom” were changed to “bride and bride.” I asked them why they were not more concerned about adapting the ceremony and their answer was clear: “ours is a Jewish wedding pure and simple. We don’t have to jump through any hoops or make any significant changes. This ceremony is our inheritance. We want to claim it as ours without apology.”
Because I couldn’t say:” By the power vested in me by the State of California” they went to Washington State to sign a legal marriage license. Now, in response the Supreme Court’s decision on Prop 8, I can invoke the power vested in me by the State of California and declare them married in accordance with the laws of the State of California and our Jewish faith. Now we are so much closer to the truth of their experience: a gay or lesbian Jewish wedding, like a Jewish heterosexual wedding, is a Jewish wedding pure and simple. It is the inheritance of every loving Jewish couple.
Rabbi Jocee Hudson, Temple Israel of Hollywood
A few months ago, I sat alongside two same-sex couples from my congregation, presenting to a room filled with 7th graders. The couples, both legally married in the months preceding Proposition 8 and parents of young children in our schools, were talking with the students about their lives and experiences of being gay and Jewish.
When it came time to discuss the right to marry, I used my own life as on object lesson. “I am engaged,” I told them. They clapped and smiled. “I am getting married in a Jewish ceremony and all my friends and family are coming. But, I can’t get legally married, because I am a woman marrying a woman. I don’t have the right to do that. I can sign a marriage license as an officiating rabbi, but I can’t sign it as a bride.”
The students’ looks of confusion, alarm, and outrage told me everything I needed to know about the next generation’s commitment to equality. What a healing moment it was for me when their eyes met mine. They are used to seeing me give directions, lead services, teach, speak, and direct. In that moment, as in so many others, I felt the fullness of the humiliation, indignity, and inequality that yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions now reverse in the state of California.
Next year’s 7th grade lesson is going to be a very different conversation!
On this side of history
by Rabbi Heather Miller
Rabbi Heather Miller, right, and her wife Melissa de la Rama on their wedding, July 21.
What does it feel like
when a human-made law
tells you your relationship isn't worth as much as that of others
even when you've been together 10 years, 20 years, 60 years?
What does it feel like for your religious marriage ceremony to not be backed by your government?
Before today, I couldn't tell you, because I had nothing to compare it to.
But today, on this side of history, I can say
that it feels like sunshine breaking through the clouds.
That the Creator is shining down
renewing the covenantal promise
that we are indeed created in the Divine image.
It feels like a heavy rush hour traffic suddenly clearing
and all road blocks have been taken away.
It feels like we are 10,000 feet up and now free to move about the cabin.
It feels like news that a disease has gone into remission.
One of life's major obstacles have been removed
and instead of our government working against our family unit,
it is supporting it, rooting for us.
It feels like we are marching through the parted waters of the Red Sea,
on our way to freedom.
It feels like people have confidence in our ability to make the world a beautiful place,
instead of begrudgingly tolerating us.
It feels like justice.
It feels like intentional, sincere hugs and cheers.
It feels joyous, empowering and deeply affirming.
It feels like we are a true part of the community and that we are blessed.
Rabbi Heather Miller serves several congregational communities in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2008, she majored in Peace and Justice Studies and Africana Studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA. She and her wife, Melissa de la Rama, were named the 2013 Liberty Hill Foundation “Leaders to Watch.” Learn more at www.rabbiheathermiller.com.
Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Beth Chayim Chadashim
Today the chupah is up and reservations are once again being accepted!
I remember like it was yesterday — how blessed I felt and how busy I was — during the short window of time ( 4½ months) in 2008 when same gender marriage was legal in California. And I well remember too how it all came to an abrupt and teary halt in November 2008 when Prop. 8 passed in California.
Of course not all has been resolved with today’s interesting U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Much remains to be done (including work to overcome some of the Court’s other decisions earlier this week). But we can stop for a moment anyway from the ongoing struggle — stop to say a shehekhiyanu and celebrate this step forward.
In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, 5 sisters — Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah — boldly step forward to plead their case for justice, and in so doing help change their society (Numbers 27:1-11). How many plaintiffs, how many attorneys, how many brave souls through the generations followed in their footsteps, stepping up to make a case for justice? We are their descendants and beneficiaries — and today we as a nation grow stronger because of them. Mazel tov to us all! Let the weddings begin!
Rabbi Denise L. Eger, Congregation Kol Ami of West Hollywood
Today is a true historic day! A moment when you can feel the chains of bondage breaking. The Supreme Court has ruled that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act is dead. The Gay and Lesbian married couples cannot be denied federal rights and benefits. And Proposition 8, the hateful ballot proposition in California that went into affect in November 2008 taking away the right to marry is also history. The court ruled that the people who sponsored Prop 8,who took the case to court when the State of California Governor and Attorney General refused to sponsor the court case, had no standing to do so. Thus Prop 8 is dead.
While the Supreme Court avoided ruling on a sweeping marriage equality platform across the United States, the ruling means that now in 13 states (including CA) and the District of Columbia where marriage is legal, the Feds must recognize that marriage in the over 1138 rights and benefits and privileges at the Federal level.
These include according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, the opportunity to sponsor a foreign born spouse for permanent resident status the same as heterosexual couples. There are over 24,700 bi-national same-sex couples who can finally get out of limbo.
The Death of DOMA means that gay and lesbian couples no longer have to pay higher federal taxes on health care provided by an employer in the private sector. Straight married couples do not pay income tax when the husband or wife is enrolled in their spouse health plan. Gay couples have paid over $1000 in taxes previously. The Death of DOMA means that surviving widows will be able to access survivor benefits through Social Security. At present no gay and lesbian married couple could. The Death of DOMA means that couples will be married no matter where they go as the full faith and credit clause stands!
The marriage equality fight isn't over in the United States. There are many places where gay men and lesbians cannot legally wed. And there are 33 states in the US where you can still be fired for being gay! That is why it is time for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to pass the House and Senate. The marriage equality and adoption rights must still be fought state by state.
We aren't full citizens yet. But today for sure… a little more. My congregants are celebrating tonight even as we understand that full equality is not yet here for everyone. The gutting of the Voting Rights Act still puts our country at great risk. We must live up to the promise of liberty and justice for all. Even as we celebrate today, the state of Texas is moving to make it more difficult for people of color to vote and only yesterday tried to take away women's reproductive freedom. Until all are free-no one is free.
But for today I will rejoice a little even as there is still work to be done.
I am grateful to God for this day. A day of blessing for sure. A day where we feel God's justice showering down upon us and encouraging each of to continue the work of Tikkun Olam-repairing a broken world.
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, B'nai David
With today’s decision, America becomes truer to itself and to its founding values. In order for this nation to truly be a sweet land of liberty, it must bestow the protections and privileges of citizenship upon all citizens, without regard for creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. President Washington promised the Jews of the United States of America that they would live in a land which “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”. And as Jews, we can appreciate the Supreme Court’s affirmation of this principle today.
Significantly, today’s decision does nothing to infringe upon the right of each religious community to practice according to its own beliefs. This too is an expression of the protections and privileges of citizenship being bestowed equally upon all. Within the Orthodox Jewish community, religious marriage will continue to be only between a man and a woman, for this is the sole definition of marriage that our religious tradition gives us. And at the same time, our community will continue the sacred work of balancing our dual commitments – our commitment to read the entirety of the Torah as God’s word, and our commitment to embrace as deepest theological truth, that God created all people in His image.
Rabbi Zachary R. Shapiro, Temple Akiba of Culver City
Many years ago, a couple arrived about a half hour late for their wedding appointment. The bride to be said, “Would you believe we had to wait an hour in line to get our wedding application?” The groom to be said, “It's insane having to go through that to get married.”
At once, they both looked at me and blushed.
For some it takes an hour. For others it has taken years. Today, however, we move forward as equals.
Rabbi John Rosove, Temple Israel of Hollywood
I could not be happier to learn of the Supreme Court decision today ruling unconstitutional a 1996 law denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples and clearing the way for California to legalize same-sex marriage. This decision enfranchises all loving couples who want nothing more than to enjoy the full benefits of committed marriage relationships that heterosexual married couples enjoy in California. As a Rabbi who believes in the sacred character of love between committed partners regardless of whether they be same gender or heterosexual, I consider this to be an affirmation of all that is truly important for the perpetuation of Jewish family in today's world.