I believe in Torah, halachah and equality
On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it is unconstitutional for a state to ban same-sex marriage. The issue still divides America, though the latest Pew Research Center survey numbers say 54 percent of Americans favor gay marriage, and only 36 percent oppose it.
In the Orthodox Jewish community, the matter is far less polarizing. I could not find any actual numbers, but I think most people are correct in assuming that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews oppose same-sex marriage for themselves and for the United States. All of the mainstream Orthodox Jewish umbrella organizations have issued statements over the past few years reiterating this opposition. Some Orthodox Jews are ambivalent on the issue, and a small minority is in favor of gay marriage.
I celebrate the Supreme Court decision.
A lot of people are confused at how an Orthodox rabbi who follows the Torah and its laws could celebrate the legalization of gay marriage.
I have been mocked, berated, insulted and even ousted from Orthodoxy for supporting marriage equality. I’ve been asked, respectfully and less respectfully, how I reconcile my belief in marriage equality and my religious beliefs.
This is my official response: Marriage equality is a civil rights issue. Gay people exist. They are your neighbors and co-workers. They might be your friends and family as well. It’s hard to be gay in America. There’s trauma involved. Gay people fall in love. They want to live together as a married couple. They want to get married for the same reasons everyone else wants to get married. Restricting consenting adults from a loving, committed marriage is a form of discrimination. I believe that discrimination is wrong. I believe that citizens of free countries should not feel oppressed. I believe that more freedom for more people is a good thing for everyone, including Orthodox Jews.
Of course, I am concerned about the implications of the ruling. I am concerned about clergy with religious objections to officiating a gay marriage, but those personal concerns cannot trump the more basic civil rights of others, especially people who typically suffer persecution and discrimination.
I am not concerned that America is becoming a Godless state with no morals. If you want equal rights and protection under the law, everyone else must benefit, too. It is wrong to suggest that equality applies unevenly. George Orwell said it best in “Animal Farm”: “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” It is moral to be fair to others, even if those others are people who violate your religious beliefs. There are competing morals in this case, and America is choosing the more compassionate and the more just of the moral options.
Marriage equality is a good thing. I celebrate marriage equality. I am also an Orthodox Jew, and I will not perform a religious ceremony that is not recognized by my religion as valid, including a gay marriage. Those two statements are not contradictory.
There is a long list of things that I think are very important to Orthodox Judaism. Banning gay marriage is near the bottom of the list. Kindness, compassion and fairness are near the top of the list.
I understand that many Orthodox Jews have visceral fears about gay marriage because of Jewish law. I hope we can get past those fears and move forward toward understanding
Eliyahu Fink is an Orthodox rabbi, writer, and teacher in Beverly Hills and online at finkorswim.com. A version of this article was originally published on finkorswim.com.