U.S. Jews among biggest backers of same-sex marriage, data show


American Jews are among the most supportive religious groups of same-sex marriage.

Some 77 percent of American Jews expressed support for same-sex marriage, according to data gathered in 2014 by the Public Religion Research Institute. Some 47 percent of American Jews polled said they “strongly favor” allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, and 30 percent said they “favor” it.

Thirteen Jewish groups, among them organizations representing the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative streams, were among the 25 groups that joined the amicus brief filed by the Anti-Defamation League in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday that  legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

The only religious group to be more supportive of same-sex marriage are Buddhists at 84 percent, with 48 strongly favoring and 36 in favor. Seventy-seven percent of religiously unaffiliated also support same-sex marriage, with 45 strongly in favor and 32 in favor.

The data were collected as part of the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Atlas for 2014, which comprises 40,000 interviews among a random sample of Americans in all 50 states. The institute, a nonprofit group, is “dedicated to research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life,” according to its website.

CORRECTION: This article said originally that 77 percent of religiously affiliated supported same-sex marriage. It should have been religiously unaffiliated.

U.S. embassy issues first visas to same-sex Israeli couples


The American embassy in Tel Aviv issued its first derivative visas to same-sex Israeli couples.

The derivative visa allows the applicant to receive a visa through a spouse or first-degree relative who is eligible for residence in the United States.

The embassy on Thursday issued the visas to the same-sex spouses of two Israelis relocating to the United States on work visas. The visas were presented by Amb. Dan Shapiro and Consul General Lawrence Mire.

“We are delighted that Embassy Tel Aviv has now issued its first visas to a married same-sex couple,’ Shapiro said.  ”Gay rights are human rights, and our new visa regulations are an important step forward.”

Same-sex marriages are not performed in Israel, but marriages performed abroad are recognized.

Madrid’s chief rabbi: Gays are ‘deviants’ who need re-educating


Madrid’s chief rabbi, Moshe Bendahan, called gays “deviants” who should be re-educated and said same-sex marriages are “monstrous.”

“Homosexuality is a deviation from nature,” Bendahan is quoted as telling the online news site Religion Digital in an interview published Wednesday. “It’s an anti-natural tendency and a sin. Contemplating allowing, consenting to what is known as ‘gay marriages’ would be a monstrosity.”

Over the last few years, several senior rabbis in Western Europe have gotten into trouble for their remarks on gays.

In January 2012, Amsterdam’s chief rabbi, Aryeh Ralbag, was briefly suspended by the board of the Jewish community for having co-signed a statement that described homosexuality as an inclination from which one can be “healed.”

Gilles Bernheim, France’s former chief rabbi, criticized the social effects of same-sex unions in a controversial document from 2012 and wrote that the “biblical view on romantic partnerships” is “exclusively between men and women.” But he also condemned “physical and verbal attacks on gays with the same intensity as I condemn anti-Semitic attacks.”

In the interview with Religion Digitial, Bendahan is also quoted as saying, “The plan of God knows no other pairing besides that of a woman and man. The pastoral duties with regards to homosexuals are focused on re-educating them about their tendencies to return them to normal.”

If techniques to “cure” gays of their sexual tendencies fail, he said “We don’t excommunicate the homosexuals from our communities but we continue to believe in their conversion. The Bible is and always had been for us our protocol, our point of reference.”

Opposing gay marriage is opposing love


One comes to understand many things after 97 years of life. Here’s one: Sex may fade, but love … that’s forever.

So says Issur Danielovitch, the man better known to the world as the nonagenarian actor Kirk Douglas. In an item this week on the Huffington Post, Douglas comes to the defense of his “friend” David Wolpe, the influential Los Angeles rabbi recently the subject of a front-page story in The New York Times describing the blowback in his congregation to his decision to perform gay marriage ceremonies.

Opposing gay marriage, Douglas writes, is opposing love. And who could be against love? Douglas even includes a poem to demonstrate how love can persevere into old age. Here’s the first few stanzas:

    Romance Begins at 80
    And I ought to know.
    I live with a girl
    Who will tell you so.

    I sit by her bath
    As she soaks in the tub.
    Then help her out
    For a strong towel rub.

    She likes that a lot
    But before I tire.
    It’s time to pour the wine
    And start lighting the fire.

    As the fire crackles,
    We talk of the past
    We met over 50 years ago
    Did you think it would last?

Jewish embrace of LGBT people recognizes the dignity of all


Attitudes toward same sex marriage in Judaism have undergone a dramatic change in the last quarter century. The prohibition recorded in Leviticus 18 has been affirmed by some, negated by others and reinterpreted by still others. Did the Torah intend loving same sex relationships? Did it understand homosexuality as a fundamental orientation rather than a choice?

For many traditionalists such questions are essentially irrelevant if not marginally blasphemous. That which God has decreed cannot be set aside. For most Jews however, Judaism is a tradition that is both evolving and eternal. The role of women, to take the most obvious example, has changed in dramatic ways in the past century. A female colleague of mine, rabbi of a synagogue for many years, had a young girl approach her and ask, “Can men be rabbis too?”

If you are a partisan of the infallibility of tradition there is no room for accommodation. There are many, however, who would permit the tradition to change in many other ways but draw the line at LGBT acceptance. The question of same sex marriage is admittedly new: it has been a scant twenty-five years since the first arguments appeared arguing for its recognition. But the velocity of social change reminds us of the comment that Hillel once made on a question of Jewish law — go out and see, he said. Trust the people. If you observe what they are doing, you will know what should be done. The rapid acceptance of same sex marriage affirms an American people with open arms.

Those who argue for civil unions but not religious ceremonies, proposing some ritual short of marriage, often ask why a different sort of ceremony is not sufficient. Clarification comes if we turn the question around: the same reason that opponents wish to call it anything but marriage is why proponents demand it be called marriage. A man in love with another man — or a woman in love with another woman — wants love acknowledged and sanctified, not merely tolerated. For many of us this is new and jarring but underneath is something we all treasure: commitment, passion, love.

As a rabbi I cannot countenance sitting before people who can fully love one another and insisting that the Jewish tradition has no place for them simply because they are of the same sex. Surely no people understands rejection and marginalization better than the Jewish people. The Torah repeatedly advises us to care for the stranger precisely because he is strange — that is, we react with suspicion or distance or uncertainty to one who is not like us. Fight against that feeling, teaches the Torah. All of God’s creation is holy and every human being in God’s image. K’vod Habriot, the dignity of all, is a fundamental Jewish principle.

When I sent a letter to my congregation stating that the clergy had unanimously decided to perform same sex marriages I received a good deal of reaction. Some people were angry, some bewildered, some hurt. The letters I most treasure were those from women and men who had felt marginalized, who were grateful that their home was at last welcoming them home. Reading those letters and having those conversations, witnessing the healing after hiddenness and estrangement I could only recall the reaction of my 16 year old daughter when I told her I was sending the letter: “What took you so long?”

What indeed.

Feeds and reads: Jewish responses to same-sex marriage decisions


Much of the Jewish world is celebrating today’s Supreme Court ruling on two same-sex marriage cases.

But two Jewish groups aren’t joining the party. We devoted a separate post to the brief response of the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel. The Orthodox Union weighed in with this longer and more balanced take which, while noting that that Judaism “forbids homosexual relationships and condemns the institutionalization of such relationships as marriages,” concludes thus:

We also recognize that no religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic and we do not expect that secular law will always align with our viewpoint. Ultimately, decisions on social policy remain with the democratic process, and today the process has spoken and we accord the process and its result the utmost respect.

The Orthodox Union is proud to assert its beliefs and principles in the public forum, and will continue to do so in a manner that is tolerant and respectful of all of our nation’s citizens, but which is also authentically based upon our sacred ancient texts and time-honored traditions.

Beyond the Orthodox world, though, the rulings were cause for celebration. At Tablet, Wayne Hoffman wrote a poignant response which he ends, “Why is today different from all other days? Today I am legally married. Truly. At last.”

At the heart of the DOMA case is Edith Windsor, a Jewish widower who was forced to pay extra taxes because the federal government did not recognize her marriage to the her partner, Thea Speyser. New Yorker contributor Ariel Levy was with Windsor when the news broke and captured emotional pictures that you can see here.

The Twitterverse has blown up in response, and so far, perhaps this subject line from an email from Bend the Arc takes the cake: ”Now Everyone Can Marry a Jewish Doctor”


TWEETS


Jewish Community Relations Council celebrates Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality

JCRC Supports Supreme Court Decision on Proposition 8 in California and Defense of Marriage Act; This is a Historic Day for Civil Rights and Equality in the United State.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013, The Jewish Community Relations Council, 121 Steuart Street, San Francisco – The Jewish Community Relations Council applauds the Supreme Court’s decisions to strike down the key provisions in the Defense of Marriage Act and leave standing California’s ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. These are landmark decisions for the State of California and the United States as a whole, and an important step toward ensuring equality, liberty and justice for all American citizens.

JCRC President Jerilyn Gelt and Executive Director Rabbi Doug Kahn celebrated the decision, saying: 

 “The organized Jewish community overwhelmingly supports marriage equality out of an abiding commitment to civil rights in our society and therefore applauds today’s Supreme Court decisions as a major step forward. The Jewish Community Relations Council has advocated for same-sex civil marriage for many years as an essential step to eliminate discrimination faced by same-sex couples.   We are also committed to maintaining the right of religious denominations to set their own requirements for religious marriage.   

The Court’s decision that will permit same-sex marriages to resume in California will, we believe, lead to many more states recognizing that denial of such rights is incompatible with our society’s commitment to equal rights for all citizens.   The Supreme Court’s companion decision striking down the key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act eliminates a major barrier to equal rights protection.   

It is bittersweet that the ruling comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to significantly weaken the Voting Rights Act – an act that has played an historic role in safeguarding one of our society’s fundamental rights.   Today, however, we join with many communities in celebrating the end of discrimination for same-sex couples seeking to marry in our state.”


Rabbinical Assembly celebrates Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage

In response to the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions today calling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and dismissing an appeal supporting an anti-gay marriage law in California, the Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization for Conservative rabbis, released the following statement:

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, RA executive vice president, said,

Judaism views marriage as a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community. Our Movement recognizes and celebrates marriages, whether between partners of the same sex or the opposite sex. We therefore celebrate today’s decisions on gay marriage by the Supreme Court.

RA president Rabbi Gerald Skolnik added,

On behalf of the 1,700 rabbis of the Rabbinical Assembly, I Join with Jews across California and the United States in acknowledging today’s Supreme Court decisions as opening the way for loving and committed same-sex couples to enjoy the rights and privileges of marriage. This is most clearly modeled in the case of Edith Windsor, a Holocaust survivor who enjoyed a loving relationship with her wife of many decades, and had been unable to inherit her partner’s estate as her spouse.

The Rabbinical Assembly is the international association of Conservative rabbis. Since its founding in 1901, the Assembly has been the creative force shaping the ideology, programs, and practices of the Conservative movement, and is committed to building and strengthening the totality of Jewish life. Rabbis of the Assembly serve congregations throughout the world, and also work as educators, officers of communal service organizations, and college, hospital, and military chaplains.  More information is available at www.rabbinicalassembly.org.


OTHER LINKS: 

Edgar M. Bronfman: Jewish values dictate protecting gay marriage


In the early 1970s, while I was CEO of the Seagram Company, public dialogue about gay rights was largely nonexistent in corporate America. Social discourse had not yet even evolved into the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ethos that dominated the following decades. Homosexuality was simply not discussed and therefore, by implication, was shameful.

During that time, as the head of a company with thousands of employees, personnel issues often came across my desk. One day, the director of human resources came into my office with a recommendation to terminate one of my brightest executives. I found myself puzzled that anyone would want to fire such a promising young man until the director leaned in and confided in a hushed tone, “Well, you know, he’s a homosexual.”

The declaration did persuade me — but not in the way he had hoped.

The promising young executive continued on to a distinguished career at Seagram, and the HR director was soon let go. Although my choice was shocking to the director, the decision was obvious to me: to fire a person because of their sexual orientation was not only wrong, it was bad business. It was discrimination, plain and simple, and would not be tolerated in the company I ran.

More than 40 years later, I still feel such discrimination to be unequivocally wrong, but my views on the subject of gay rights have evolved. Particularly today, as we celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to recognize the legality of gay marriage, I now see marriage equality as a moral imperative because of my Jewish roots.

Just as the high court has shown moral bravery in its recognition of gay marriage, the Jewish community should follow its example in our myriad communities. As Jews, we should remember that our tradition upholds the bond between two loving people and the families they create as a source of strength and commitment to the betterment of the world.

“Justice” is a word we are taught early in life, and we are reminded constantly that it is a principle we should uphold and promote. In Hebrew, the word tzedek is used to promote acts of loving kindness and righteousness. Its diminutive, tzedakah, is translated as charity, but it is much more. We are taught in the Torah, in the book of Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.” In Hebrew, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdorf.”

It is a vital, active imperative for the Jewish people to be on the front lines of issues protecting and promoting the rights of any group being treated unfairly. To take approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population and tell them they are second-class citizens is clearly unjust. As Jews we are instructed to seek justice for the stranger, the widow and the orphan because too often society discriminates against and takes advantage of those without advocates.

I have come to see the protection of gay marriage as a manifestation of the Jewish value of seeking justice for those who are enslaved. To those who cover their prejudice with reference to biblical injunctions against homosexuality, I ask if they are willing to live by every other law listed in the Torah. For such literalists, I submit that the very Torah portion of Leviticus that they so often quote also enjoins us to harbor no hatred against our brother and our neighbor.

To freeze Judaism in time because of ancient biblical edicts is to deny that Judaism is a mighty river that moves forward through time, a living entity that changes course and becomes renewed through what it meets on the banks. Like a river, it retains its essential character although it is constantly renewed and evolving.

Today, the Jewish pursuit of justice must channel itself against the denial of marriage equality. For Jews, who have suffered so much throughout history at the hands of prejudice, to stand idly by while any group is treated so unfairly is unequivocally wrong.

I have been inspired in my thinking on gay rights and marriage equality by a woman I have known since she was a teenager. She is now the leader of Keshet, a group that promotes equality for the LGBT community in the Jewish world.

Idit Klein first came to my attention when she was in high school. She was a student on a program I founded called the Bronfman Youth Fellowship that targets Jewish teens of exceptional promise from an array of backgrounds. In my conversations with her over the years, I have learned that the issues facing LGBT Jews are ones on which all Jews need to speak out.

Within the Jewish community we must endeavor to include and celebrate the diversity of families and couples within all aspects of religious, communal and institutional life. When our communities continue to open their tents as our forefather Abraham did, to include all who wish to participate in Jewish life, our people’s possibilities expand and gain strength.


Edgar M. Bronfman, the former CEO of the Seagram Company Ltd., is president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, which seeks to inspire a renaissance of Jewish life. He is the author of “The Bronfman Haggadah” (Rizzoli Press) created in conjunction with his wife, artist Jan Aronson.

Gay rights response: Let us eat (wedding) cake!


Doors opened early this morning at the Abbey, a gay bar in West Hollywood where people gathered to watch the Supreme Court rule that part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional by denying federal benefits to same-sex couples.

The watch party began at 6:30 a.m. Champagne was flowing and free wedding cake was available throughout the day. 

Anne Chamberlain, who celebrated after watching the decision at home, recalled how more than 20 years ago when she was a gay-rights activist in college, a reporter asked her what she wanted to achieve.

“I told them I wanted the rights for gays to marry, serve in the military and protection of violence, and I saw all of this in my lifetime,” Chamberlain said.

She married Megan Cavanagh in 2008 during the period of time when gay marriage was legal in California before voters approved Proposition 8. (The high court paved the way for a return of same-sex marriage by dismissing an appeal to Prop. 8) They take comfort in knowing that their marriage is now recognized federally.

Emily Reitz and Maureen Carroll at the Abbey in West Hollywood.

Some couples, like Troy Taylor, 44, and Teador Balog, 26, said the ruling means they feel more comfortable starting a family in this country. They were married in Washington D.C. but were worried that their marriage wasn’t federally recognized. Balog is a Hungarian citizen and now it will be easier for him to gain citizenship if he ever seeks to do so.

“The decision allows us to build a life together as a family,” Taylor said.

Emily Reitz, 28, and Maureen Carroll, 37, have been engaged for just over a year and plan to get married on Sept. 1.

“We had been planning on getting married no matter what, and we wanted it to be recognized,” Reitz said.

Reitz was raised Jewish although she no longer goes to synagogue. She plans to have a nondenominational wedding but said that they will definitely break the glass after the ceremony.

Reitz and Carroll said they look forward to celebrating tonight at 5:30 p.m. at a rally at San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards.

Jews vocal on both sides of France’s gay marriage debate


Wide-eyed and smiley, Elay-Gabriel seems utterly unaffected by the French media’s sudden interest in him.

A dozen French journalists have visited the 18-month-old in recent months because he is trapped in a sort of legal limbo: He cannot obtain citizenship because the state does not recognize children born to surrogates abroad as French, even if one of their biological parents is a French national.

Complicating matters is the fact that Elay-Gabriel is being raised by two gay Parisians — Israeli-born Eran and his partner, Jean-Louis. (The family asked that their last name not be published.) Gay couples cannot adopt in France, meaning that surrogacy — and the citizenship uncertainties which follow — are inevitable for gays wishing to raise children.

“We learned singles practically can’t adopt, and gays are all singles in France because we can’t marry,” Eran said.

Much of that could change if President Francois Hollande succeeds in his effort to push legislation through parliament that would allow same-sex marriage in France, a move that has set off a fiery public debate in which Jews have played an outsized role.

In October, Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, breaking with the French rabbinate’s traditional neutrality on issues of civil legislation, penned an essay on the negative effects of gay marriage. Bernheim argued that legalization efforts are made for “the exclusive profit of a tiny minority” and are part of a wider move to “undermine the heterosexual fundamentals of our society.”

France’s association of Jewish homosexuals, Beit Haverim, condemned Bernheim’s language as “bellicose.” But the document has been quoted at length in influential French dailies and was cited approvingly by Pope Benedict, who called it “profoundly moving” during his Christmas address to Vatican officials.

Bernheim’s essay was a notable contrast to the inflammatory reaction of France’s Catholic clergy. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, said in an interview that the law would bring about “social collapse,” adding, “Next they’ll want to have foursomes. Then they’ll legalize incest.”

“When the Catholics spoke against this law, nobody listened because of the vehemence and because they’re Pavlovian opponents of change,” Yeshaya Dalsace, a well-known Conservative rabbi from Paris, told JTA. “People listened to Bernheim because the Jews are known as progressive forces of change in law, medicine, labor — you name it.”

For many, the debate is largely a nominal question of principle, as legal workarounds afford French gays de facto equality in most areas. Parenting, however, is an exception.

In November, Eran met with several French Socialist lawmakers leading the gay marriage effort. On Jan. 29, French media reported that Justice Minister Christiane Taubira ordered authorities to naturalize the dozens of surrogate children like Elay-Gabriel who are living as foreigners in France.

“This is positive, but a directive could be canceled and cannot replace legislation,” Eran said.

Preliminary deliberations on the “marriage for all” bill began in parliament on Jan. 28. With Hollande’s Socialist Party holding a majority in both houses, the law is likely to pass.

Still, the debate has ignited passions. Only a bare majority — 52 percent — supports the law, according to a poll of 1,002 adults published Jan. 13 by the newsweekly Le Point. The first discussion in parliament was preceded by a demonstration in Paris by some 340,000 opponents of the legislation. Another 120,000 demonstrated in favor.

The divide is similarly evident within France’s Jewish community.

Joel Mergui, president of the French Consistoire, a state-recognized body responsible for synagogues and religious Jewish services, spoke out against gay marriage in September, telling Le Monde, “It would change the natural model of the family.”

Dalsace has emerged as something of a spokesman for the other side, penning a 37-page essay and several Op-Eds disputing Bernheim’s reasoning and asserting that the law does not infringe on religious liberties. But while he is routinely quoted by supporters of gay marriage, Dalsace maintains that rabbis should not get involved in debating civil law. His objective in speaking out, Dalsace told JTA, is “to fight the false impression that Bernheim speaks for all Jews.”

While no data exist on where French Jews stand on the gay marriage question, experts say the Jewish community of 550,000 — the world’s third-largest — is gradually becoming more traditional and inclined to oppose Hollande’s law.

“The affiliated Jewish community of France is becoming more and more religious and traditional, and that is part of the influence of the large North African contingent which arrived here in the 1950s and '60s,” said Gideon Kouts, head of the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Culture at Paris 8 University.

Whether or not religious opposition to the law is sufficient to prevent its passage is an open question, but it's certainly not going to deter the French president. In an article in Le Figaro last month about an “informal talk” he had with a group of clergymen that included Bernheim, Hollande made clear that he planned to stand his ground.

“We don’t make laws based on demonstrations,” Hollande said. “[Because] if we did, we'd be letting the street decide.”

The queerness of love: A Jewish case for same-sex marriage


Last year, I officiated at the first same-sex wedding in the 145-year history of my synagogue.  For a Conservative congregation, this was quite a break with tradition.  Nevertheless,  I was proud to stand beneath the wedding canopy with this couple, who affirmed the sacredness of their union “in accordance with the laws of Moses and the people of Israel.”  Before I chose to officiate, I studied the texts, teachings, and arguments in my tradition.  I didn’t make this decision lightly.  Today, I am unfazed by the apparent biblical injunction against homosexuality as an “abomination.”  I am confident in my stand, despite a 3,000-year-old tradition that has no precedent for such a marriage.  In fact, it is from a place of humility and awe before my tradition and God that I have chosen take this stand.

The Hebrew word for wedding is “Kiddushin,” which means ‘Sanctification,’ or ‘Holiness.’  A wedding is the formal declaration of the holiness of love.  All the blessings and rituals and formulae under the wedding canopy affirm one idea:  when two human beings find each other and love each other, it is Godly:   a taste of the World to Come, a world of perfected justice and joy.   It is in our capacity to love that we are holy, and most fully in the image of God.  If there’s anything that 3,000 years of Jewish history has shown us—3,000 years of so much exile and persecution—it’s that the only hope for humankind is to strive toward ever-more loving and just societies. 

We Jews are a people who have never quite fit into the same categories of peoplehood or religion that other nations do.  We are a distinct people, even as we bear a message of God’s universality.  We affirm that we are different from other peoples, even as we know that we are no different than any other human being.  Our presence in the world has often been a source of anxiety for other nations, religions, and people.  In this way, we Jews have always been a queer people .  And yes, I use the term ‘queer’ deliberately.  To be queer is to be troubling, unsettling, not meeting expectations of the way others might want things to be.

It is, in fact, the Jews’ queerness in the world that captures our particular Divine message to all humanity.  As Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, creator of Queer Spiritual Counseling teaches, the existence of God is the queerest thing about the universe.  God, too, cannot be categorized or boxed in. The inexplicable mystery of God is a source of unspeakable anxiety to so many of us who long to reduce God to our simplistic categories.  Finally, we declare the love of a wedded couple to be holy because love, too, defies all classifications and can never be bounded–it’s a feeling, but not just a feeling; it’s a state of being that “have,” that we “are,” but it is larger than any one individual or relationship.  Love is queer, and in recognizing this, we find its holiness, its Godliness.

It is no accident that the famous Levitical injunction concerning homosexuality appears in a section of the Torah called “Kedoshim,” meaning “Holy.”  When seen in context, the homosexual act described comes amidst a series of many kinds of human couplings—all of which are abusive because they are not loving acts.  When one man rapes another man simply because he does not have access to a woman, such an act is indeed an abomination, a desecration of God’s holiness, a desecration of love.  Such an act is the farthest thing from the love of two human beings—of whatever gender—that we can and must sanctify whenever it arises in our human condition. 

I reject the idea that the Bible declares that the only sacred love that can exist is the love between a man and a woman.  Love is queer — it can never be limited to our categorizations of roles and gender.  Love is commitment, presence, and kindness so awesome and mysterious that nothing in our power can contain it.  We must, in our very imperfect world, celebrate, sanctify, and lift up love wherever we find it; because our loving relationships are the only way that we will bring Godliness to this world.  For these reasons, I proudly stand for the evolution of Judaism,  in awe of the wisdom of my Jewish people and tradition, the of holiness God and the queerness of  love.


Rabbi Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.

Illinois lawmakers begin considering approval of same-sex marriage


Illinois lawmakers began considering a measure on Wednesday that would make President Barack Obama's home state the 10th in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

Supporters and opponents furiously lobbied lawmakers as a leading sponsor of the proposal pressed for a quick vote in the state Senate. The “lame duck” session is the final meeting before a newly elected legislature takes office later in January.

Buoyed by November election referendum victories in Maryland, Maine and Washington state, supporters of gay marriage want to make Illinois the first Midwestern legislature to approve it. Iowa's Supreme Court legalized it in 2009.

If approved, Illinois would be the second most populous state to allow gay marriage after New York.

Democrats hold a majority in both chambers of the Illinois legislature. But as in Maryland, Washington state and New York, a few Republican votes may be needed to pass a bill in Illinois.

State Republican party chairman Pat Brady was making calls to Republican lawmakers in support of gay marriage, legislative sources said, which could help win some votes for the measure.

Obama, a former Illinois state senator, publicly endorsed gay marriage in Illinois over the weekend, a rare occasion when he has weighed in on a state matter.

On the other side of the issue, Chicago Cardinal Francis George sent a letter to Catholic parishes saying same sex marriage undermined the “natural family” between a man and a woman.

“The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible,” he wrote. The letter, signed by George and six auxiliary bishops, urges Catholics to reach out to their state legislators.

Last week, Senate President John Cullerton's said through a spokeswoman that he was confident of the votes to pass gay marriage.

CIVIL UNIONS ALREADY LEGAL

But a move on Wednesday to speed consideration of the proposal in the Senate narrowly failed, 28 to 24.

It was not clear if the procedural vote was an indication that the proposal was short of the votes needed to pass or if some lawmakers simply wanted to take more time for debate. The Illinois House will convene later in the week.

Even if Illinois lawmakers fail to approve gay marriage before a new legislature takes office, there is a reasonable chance of passage later in the year because Democrats gained seats in the November election and will have super-majorities in both chambers.

In June, 2011, Illinois legalized civil unions, which grant some of the rights of marriage to same-sex partners. But gay rights activists said that did not go far enough.

All prominent Democrats in Illinois have endorsed gay marriage, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn.

A key issue to be resolved is whether Illinois should allow religious groups the option of declining to perform same-sex marriages. New York granted such an exception in 2011 in order to secure the votes to legalize gay marriage there.

A bill introduced in the Illinois House offers such a religious exemption.

Last week, at least 260 Illinois Jewish and Protestant leaders published a letter supporting same-sex marriage.

“There can be no justification for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the letter said.

A survey of Illinois voters by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling late last year found 47 percent would allow gay marriage, 42 percent opposed and 11 percent not sure.

The poll of 500 Illinois voters from Nov. 26 to 28 had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

In addition to the three states which voted in November to legalize gay marriage, six others allow it – Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire, plus the District of Columbia.

Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Todd Eastham

Pope praises French rabbi’s essay against gay marriage


In his Christmas address to Vatican officials, Pope Benedict reportedly praised an essay by France’s chief rabbi on the negative effects of gay marriage.

According to Reuters, the Pope called the essay by Rabbi Gilles Bernheim “profoundly moving” during the Pope’s speech in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Friday.

In an essay published in October,“Gay Marriage, Parenthood and Adoption: What We Often Forget To Say,” Bernheim argues that plans to legalize gay marriage are being made for “the exclusive profit of a tiny minority” and are often supported because of political correctness.

Homosexual rights groups “will use gay marriage as a Trojan Horse” in a wider campaign to “deny sexual identity and erase sexual differences” and “undermine the heterosexual fundamentals of our society,” Bernheim also wrote.

Last month, France’s Socialist government unveiled a draft law that would allow gay marriage. That same month Spain’s highest court upheld a gay marriage law.

A more modern view of homosexuality


The American Modern Orthodox community has just entered uncharted territory. Last week, our largest rabbinic organization, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) formally withdrew its support of JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality). JONAH has long been the Orthodox community’s address for reparative therapy, a process that is intended to cure people of their homosexual attractions and to replace these with heterosexual ones. The recently announced lawsuits against JONAH brought by four of its former clients, accusing JONAH of both fraud and abusive practices, was apparently the last straw for the RCA. 

Strictly speaking, the RCA’s statement rejects only JONAH. It, in fact, goes on to say, “We believe that properly trained mental health professionals who abide by the values and ethics of their professions can and do make a difference in the lives of their patients and clients [and that these professionals] should be able to work on whatever issues [their] clients voluntarily bring to their session.” This is, of course, indisputably correct. But the statement’s acknowledgement of  “the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation” represents a paradigm shift. It is a rejection of the very premise that JONAH and all reparative therapy is built on, namely that sexual orientation is subject to change, and that any client who works hard enough at it can become heterosexual. This may not strike many readers as being a revelation at all. But through this RCA statement, the Modern Orthodox community has formally crossed into a brave, new world. 

[Related: Israel gets same-sex divorce before same-sex marriage]

Any discussion about what the practical implications of this might be needs to be grounded in an understanding — even an appreciation — of the context out of which it emerged. Any of us who grew up in Orthodox institutions in the 1980s or earlier knows firsthand that homosexuality, and, in particular, male homosexuality, was spoken of with disgust and revulsion, and that homosexual slurs were de rigueur. (In our own defense of course, the larger social landscape wasn’t much different.) And even as the campaigns for gay rights and recognition played out over the ensuing decades, Orthodoxy remained largely unmoved and unchanged. There was only one serious grappling with the issue during this period, and that was the essay written by Rabbi Norman Lamm in 1974 which, while utilizing language that is offensive in today’s context, took the unprecedented step of distinguishing between the “sin” and the “sinner,” asserting that while “the act itself remains an abomination, the fact of illness lays upon us the obligation of pastoral compassion, psychological understanding, and social sympathy.”  

Though Rabbi Lamm’s words undoubtedly, and with good cause, arouse anger, pain and resentment in many contemporary readers, understanding why he used them is crucial to understanding the true significance and implications of last week’s developments. The “illness” paradigm for explaining homosexuality (which was, indeed, the American Psychological Association’s paradigm as well until 1973, just one year prior) was Rabbi Lamm’s — and Orthodoxy’s — legal and theological lynchpin. Legal in that it provided access to the legal category of “transgression as a result of compulsion,” a category that elicits a more generous judgment. Theological in that it provided a response to the conundrum that God, who is all-knowing, just and kind, could not possibly prohibit that which cannot humanly be resisted. As long as homosexuality was an illness, a person’s failure to resist its temptations need not be ascribed to a Divine failure, but to an unfortunate human one. Needless to say, the “illness” paradigm also led inexorably to the obligation to seek therapeutic intervention. And while the most modern end of the Orthodox spectrum began to eschew reparative therapy some years ago — see, for example, the July 2010 “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews With a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community” (http://statementofprinciplesnya.blogspot.com/) — the balance continued to insist upon it. (See, for example, the 2011 “Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality” — www.torahdec.org.)

The statement of the RCA however, quietly, boldly and courageously breaks new ground. In recognizing that there is no evidence that reparative therapy is effective, and that there is, consequently, no obligation to pursue it, our community is acknowledging that homosexuality may very well be simply part of the human condition. Accordingly, we have decided that homosexuals should not any longer have to pay the psychological, emotional and even physical price for our theological comfort. We have effectively designated our theological question as a teyku, one whose answer still needs to be determined. But one that will, meanwhile, not prevent us from seeing the human truths in front of our eyes. 

It is not realistic to expect that Orthodoxy will some day recognize homosexual relationships as being equal to heterosexual ones, or to authorize gay marriage, or even to drop the idea that gay sex is a transgression of biblical law. Orthodoxy’s foundational beliefs concerning the Divinity of Torah and the authority of halachah (received Jewish law) preclude such developments. In other words, if the Torah declares a particular action prohibited, it’s not within our authority to say otherwise. But we can regard homosexual acts as we do other forms of nonobservance, as we do, for example, the nonobservance of kashrut, both in the sense that it doesn’t carry the charge of immorality and also in the sense that it doesn’t harm our ability to have a normal familial relationship with someone. The shift from Rabbi Lamm’s “sympathy” to the RCA’s recognition of the reality of sexual orientation can and should bring us to a place in which we can accept our friends and children and siblings for who they are, grant them the dignity and respect that any person deserves, and love them as our own. 

Within our community, it’s a brave, new and better world.


Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David-Judea (bnaidavid.com), a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Israel gets same-sex divorce before same-sex marriage


An Israeli court has awarded the country's first divorce to a gay couple, which experts called an ironic milestone since same-sex marriages cannot be legally conducted in the Jewish state.

A decision this week by a family court in the Tel Aviv area “determined that the marriage should be ended” between former Israeli lawmaker Uzi Even, 72, and his partner of 23 years, Amit Kama, 52, their lawyer, Judith Meisels, said on Tuesday.

Legal experts see the ruling as a precedent in the realm of gay rights in a country where conservative family traditions are strong and religious courts oversee ceremonies like marriages, divorces and burials.

While Israel's Interior Ministry still has the power to try and veto the decision, it would likely have to go court in order to do so, Meisels said.

A 2006 high court decision forced the same ministry, headed by an ultra-Orthodox cabinet member, to recognize same sex marriages performed abroad and ordered the government to list a gay couple wed in Canada as married.

Same sex marriages are performed in Israel, but they have no formal legal status.

“The irony is that while this is the beginning of a civil revolution, it's based on divorce rather than marriage,” newly divorced Kama, a senior lecturer in communications in the Emek Yizrael College, told Reuters.

He and Even, both Israelis, married in Toronto in 2004, not long after Canada legalized same-sex marriage. They separated last year, Kama said.

It took months to finalize a divorce as they could not meet Canada's residency requirements to have their marriage dissolved there. At the same time in Israel, rabbinical courts in charge of overseeing such proceedings threw out the case, Kama said.

By winning a ruling from a civil court, Kama and Even may have also set a precedent for Israeli heterosexual couples, who until now have had to have rabbis steeped in ancient ritual handle their divorces, legal experts say.

“This is the first time in Israeli history a couple of Jews are obtaining a divorce issued by an authority other than a rabbinical court, and I think there is significant potential here for straight couples” to do so as well, said Zvi Triger, deputy dean of the Haim Striks law school near Tel Aviv.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy

Conservative day school cancels Boy Scout troops over exclusion of gay leaders


A Conservative Jewish day school will not renew its Boy Scouts charter because of the organization's policy excluding gay and lesbian adults as leaders.

The Golda Och Academy in West Orange, N.J., said in a letter to parents last week that the Scouts' policy presents a “problematic image for many families.

“To exclude same-sex families from membership and adult volunteerism is in direct contradiction of school policies, which place high value on inclusion,” reads the Oct. 17 letter signed by head of school Joyce Raynor, the New Jersey Jewish News reported.

The Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its ban on gays and lesbians over the summer.

There has several same-sex families at Golda Och, according to Raynor.

The day school's scout and pack are now in search of another location in which to meet. Thirty of the school's families have children in Boy Scout Troop 118, which started in 1995, and Cub Scout Pack 118 for younger boys.

Since 2001, the Reform movement has recommended that member congregations withdraw sponsorship of packs or troops over the issue, according to the Jewish News.

New Reform wedding edition confronts same-sex ceremonies


A new edition of a user-friendly guide to making a modern Jewish wedding has changed its approach to same-sex weddings.

Rabbi Hara Person, publisher and director of CCAR Press, which publishes books for the Reform movement, said the new edition of “Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding,” which was published originally in 2001, contains many updates and revisions, but the biggest change is regarding same-sex marriages.

“Whereas in the older edition, the term ‘commitment ceremony’ was used throughout the book, and same-sex ceremonies were discussed differently than ‘regular’ weddings, in this edition we do not differentiate for the most part,” Person said. “A wedding is a wedding, whether it is between a man and woman, or two men or two women. “

Person said the book also includes liturgical options for ceremonies between same-sex couples or couples involving transgendered persons.

“It is important to note how much things have changed in these respects since the first edition now that some states have legalized gay marriage and it has become so much accepted overall—after all, even the president has spoken out in support,“ Person said. “This change of attitude is reflected in the book.”

Person said that while there are still many specific choices that are up to the rabbi based on his or her interpretation of Jewish tradition, the book is meant to be a conversation starter. 

“It’s meant to be used as a book for rabbis to give to couples so that they can become more knowledgeable about Jewish weddings, the tradition of Jewish weddings,” she said. “It gives them creative options for certain parts of the ceremony.”

Person said that other changes include an appendix focusing on how to write a wedding booklet (to hand out at the ceremony), new photographs that show a large range of types of couples, an updated design, a completely revised and more usable checklist, and new references to subjects such as making your wedding reflect your values, for example by serving organic food.

Conservative rabbinic group issues guidelines for same-sex wedding rituals


A landmark vote last week by the Conservative movement’s rabbinic committee has established rituals for same-sex wedding ceremonies, affirming that same-sex marriages have “the same sense of holiness and joy as that expressed in heterosexual marriages.”

The decision by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly was several years in coming, following a 2006 vote by the committee “favor[ing] the establishment of committed and loving relationships for gay and lesbian Jews.”

But the 2006 responsum declined to specify rituals for establishing gay and lesbian relationships, calling them “complicated and controversial questions that deserve a separate study.”

Last week’s position paper, which was adopted by a vote of 13-0, with one abstention, fills that void by outlining two possible marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. The paper’s authors, Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins and Avram Reisner, were also the authors of a 2006 responsum titled “Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah,” which declared gays eligible for rabbinic ordination.

“This is the next step in the process of bringing about the full inclusion of LGBT Jews,” said Rabbi Aaron Weininger, the first openly gay student admitted to the rabbinical school at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, using the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. “Visibility of LGBT people as individuals and couples makes us stronger as a Jewish community.”

Weininger, who received his rabbinic ordination this month, was consulted during the composition of last week’s paper.

The paper acknowledges that “same-sex intimate relationships are comprehensively banned by classical rabbinic law,” or halachah.

The biblical prohibition against homosexual intimacy appears in twice in Leviticus. “A man who lies with a male as with a woman, the two have committed an abomination,” says Leviticus 20:13. “They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

The Conservative movement’s decision said that, “for observant gay and lesbian Jews who would otherwise be condemned to a life of celibacy or secrecy, their human dignity requires suspension of the rabbinic level prohibitions.”

Dorff, Nevins and Reisner proposed two possible ceremonies that incorporate what they deem to be the four key elements of a Jewish wedding—welcoming the couple, symbols of celebration, a document of covenant and blessings thanking God.

One ceremony hews closely to the traditional Jewish wedding, making changes in the language and the blessings based on the couple’s gender and sexuality. The other departs from that ceremony, with three blessings, for example, instead of the traditional seven.

The Conservative decision did not call same-sex marriages kiddushin, the traditional Jewish legal term for marriage, because that act of consecration is non-egalitarian and gender-specific. In the traditional kiddushin ceremony, a pair of blessings is recited and the bridegroom gives his bride a ring, proclaiming that he is marrying his bride “according to the laws of Moses and Israel.”

Such a ceremony would be inappropriate for same-sex ceremonies, the Conservative rabbis suggested in their position paper. They also noted that the use of kiddushin opens the door to divorce disputes in which husbands may deny their wife religious writs of divorce, or gets—something that “has been the source of great suffering in many Jewish communities.”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, who has been performing same-sex marriages since 2002—four years before the movement permitted them—said that Jewish law is flexible, and should respond to changes within the Jewish community.

“Modern halachah has always seen the Torah as its center, but not any one meaning as the final interpretation,” said Creditor, the rabbi of Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom. “There is a growing understanding from within Conservative Jews that our responsibility is to steward our community with clarity. Conservative Judaism believes halachah changes when it must.”

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who heads the LGBT Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York, said that these new guidelines represent a major step forward in Conservative Judaism’s sensitivity toward the LGBT community.

“We can’t be held hostage to the radical right wing of the Jewish world,” said Kleinbaum, who was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. “The Conservative movement is rejecting religion based on bigotry.”

While the 2006 decision to ordain gay and lesbian rabbis and accept gay couples was controversial, even Rabbi Joel Roth, who resigned from the law committee in the wake of that decision, called this latest responsum “a very fine thing.”

“The fact that they created the ceremony is five or six years overdue,” he told JTA. “In the Conservative movement as it exists, the classical position [of forbidding gay relations] is considered non-normative.”

The Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis endorsed Jewish gay marriage in the late 1990s while acknowledging the right of rabbis to choose whether or not to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. The Orthodox movement does not allow gay marriage.

Kleinbaum said she hopes that the Conservative movement’s next step in addressing LGBT issues will be in accommodating bisexual and transgender people.

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, the president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said that the movement’s constituency will determine its priorities.

“Ultimately,” he said, “the Jewish people have a tendency of deciding what the next item on the agenda will be.”

Obama’s same-sex marriage nod echoes historic Catholic-Jewish debate


When President Obama publicly endorsed same-sex marriage two weeks ago, most secular Jewish leaders applauded while some religious ones disagreed—the latter group joining their Catholic counterparts.

In doing so, these representatives echoed sentiments thrust into the public sphere five decades earlier, ones that simultaneously symbolized a new Jewish confidence in America, threatened to end the nascent interfaith dialogue and for one of the first times publicly highlighted Jewish differences.

Back in June 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools, a landmark decision that most Jewish groups strongly supported but which Catholic groups strongly opposed. In that era, the Catholic Church still officially branded Jews as Christ killers and issued calls to convert them. Meanwhile, many Jews were quietly trying to assimilate into largely Christian suburbs. And many Jews feared that publicly opposing Christian groups was a huge risk. But national Jewish organizations decided they would take it.

That dispute—little-known today—was novel in how the American Jewish community mustered the courage to aggressively oppose a bulk of the Christian mainstream and openly disagree within its own ranks, setting the stage for today’s vocal Jewish response to nearly every national issue.

The Supreme Court case, Engel v. Vitale, struck down a prayer composed in 1951 by the New York State Board of Regents, which oversaw the state’s public schools. The prayer read: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”

Ten families, including some Jewish ones, argued that the prayer encroached on the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. Hugo Black was among the Supreme Court justices who agreed.

“There can, of course, be no doubt that New York’s program of daily classroom invocation of God’s blessings as prescribed in the Regents’ prayer is a religious activity,” he wrote in his June 25, 1962 majority opinion.

Jewish groups had quietly opposed school prayer for more than a decade. They did so to stand on principle while ensuring that Jews could exist peacefully in an America with a recent history of anti-Semitism. Indeed, on the eve of World War II. the nation had politically powerful anti-Semitic sentiments, and in the early 1950s many Jews were targeted during Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist hearings.

Faced with such realities, for years the last thing national Jewish groups wanted to do was to provoke the anger of their Christian counterparts.

Still, on record, Jewish voices were clear. “The Constitution has erected a wall between church and state, the breaching of which would … only serve to intensify the feeling of antagonism and tension that exists between adherents of various faiths,” read a 1953 organizational plan from the National Community Relations Advisory Council, the predecessor of today’s Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

The potential concerns were borne out in the response to the 1962 Supreme Court ruling.

Within months, relations between Christian and Jewish groups, which had been steadily improving since World War II, threatened to break down. A September 1962 editorial titled “To Our Jewish Friends” in America magazine, a Jesuit publication, mentioned “militant” Jewish activists and warned of a resulting “heightened anti-Semitic feeling.”

Jewish leaders were quick with a critical response, but it was Commonweal, another Catholic magazine, that took the lead. On Sept. 28, 1962, it printed a first-ever “Jewish issue,” which detailed the positive aspects of Jewish life in America. It was nothing short of revolutionary.

The issue featured not only an editorial defending Jewish groups’ right to oppose school prayer, but essays from diverse Jewish leaders such as representatives of the American Jewish Committee, the Synagogue Council of America and even Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe.

Emboldened by the platform Commonweal had given them, most Jewish leaders wrote harsh words against Christian groups that sought to silence their activism—pointing out the political work of the groups.

“Certainly Catholics are well aware that they have been accused of acting unfairly, as an organized minority, in bringing pressure on legislatures,” the AJC’s David Danzig wrote. “Some people make an exception of the Catholics, who, they say, do not persuade, but organize, manipulate and compel, acting under the guise of religion.”

But Schneerson, who had thus far kept a low public profile since becoming rebbe in the early 1950s, used his essay to disagree with the mainstream Jewish organizational consensus. He pushed for federal aid to religious schools, arguing that such aid would lower Jewish school tuition.

Jewish leaders had disagreed in public before, but Schneerson’s dissent received rebuke from the Jewish mainstream and plenty of secular media coverage, including multiple articles in The New York Times. But just as the Jewish leaders did not back down in Commonweal to placate Christian counterparts, Schneerson stood firm against liberal Jewish voices.

Ever since, Jewish and Christian groups have periodically disagreed but maintained an open dialogue. But the dispute in 1962 marked a shift in Jewish communal priorities, and Jewish organizations emerged from it newly confident.

Today, national Jewish organizations do not tailor their voice solely to ensure peace among religious groups, let alone within the Jewish community. Rather, they aggressively advocate controversial causes—from how to apply religious freedom to defending civil rights for homosexuals—regardless of what the Christian majority thinks.

“One of the great questions that Jews must be asking themselves now is whether they will be able to participate in the cooperations and competitions of American pluralism on the same basis and with the same rights as American Protestants and Catholics,” Danzig wrote in Commonweal. “Granted that prudence is a virtue and that all groups should be prudent, must Jews alone be guided exclusively by considerations of prudence?”

As Jewish leaders have made clear ever since 1962, the answer to that question was no.

Opinion: Same-sex marriage campaigns should heed local sentiments


The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Since the May 8 vote to approve North Carolina’s Amendment One referendum, which constitutionally bars the state from recognizing as legal any marriage other than that of a man to a woman, his words still ring true. Our march toward justice for all citizens of North Carolina, for all God’s children, is incomplete.

In Judaism, a “heshbon hanefesh” is an “accounting of the soul.” The concept helps us clarify how we go forward.

Our campaign against Amendment One made significant inroads in mobilizing the support and energy of the state’s African-American community, thanks in large part to the incredible leadership of the North Carolina NAACP’s president, the Rev. William Barber. He framed the issue as one of basic civil rights, upholding the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, rather than just as an issue of marriage, and that resonated with many African-American community leaders.

In doing so, he strengthened opposition to Amendment One while acknowledging that many will, and are entitled to, have major problems with same-sex marriages. I found the shift from support of the amendment to opposition heartening.

The fight joined many committed people who worked to create a “coalition for goodness and justice.” Our dynamic group, whose members barely knew each other when we started, will continue to fight for social justice issues for all North Carolinians.

Nonetheless, the defeat was far worse than expected. The amendment passed by a whopping 21 percentage points even though polls had predicted a 10-point victory.

So what exactly went wrong?

Professor Maxine Eichner of the University of North Carolina School of Law and other experts, including family-law professors from most of the state’s law schools, detailed the possible harmful and unintended consequences of the amendment. One poll indicated that people would vote against the amendment if it were shown to harm families and children. Reliance on this information became the campaign’s strategy.

But basing a campaign on such information was a major tactical error, and several in the anti-amendment coalition tried to point this out. For two weeks prior to the referendum, amendment supporters ran an effective campaign countering Eichner’s arguments. It included call-in phone briefings with lawyers dismissing the fears raised by the professor.

The “don’t harm families” approach also was reflected in the name of the major organization against the amendment—“Protect NC Families.” The name does not say what the organization stands for and is close in name to “Focus on the Family,” a national organization that opposes recognition of gay marriage. This similarity led to confusion.

I’m also not sure that those who came from out of state to help defeat Amendment One understood the people of North Carolina. They were well meaning, but now move on to another battleground. Their record on defeating these amendments is 33 losses and one victory. Is not a strategy change warranted?

Amendment One passed overwhelmingly because of the opposition’s inability to reframe the debate from marriage and on to civil rights. Months ago some of us warned that many North Carolinians who opposed same-sex marriages would vote against the amendment if they thought it was discriminatory and denied equal protection as guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.

The response was that the argument might gain traction in Greensboro, with its unique civil-rights history (the original sit-ins occurred at the downtown Woolworth department store), but would not resonate elsewhere in the state. Opponents also worried that it would shift focus from the “don’t harm families” strategy in a way that would be harmful at the polls.

The unexpectedly high margin of defeat tells us that basing the campaign on potential harms to families was a tactical error.

A related step that Amendment One opponents should have taken was to emphasize and publicize the pronouncements of prominent conservatives and libertarians who opposed the measure. They generally based their opposition on the same civil rights argument regarding violating the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection.

Finally, the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 52 percent of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Yet a significant number are afraid that legalizing same-sex marriage would force their clergy to officiate at such marriages. Consequently, they oppose same-sex marriage laws. Once people learned that no law could ever be passed that would require a faith community or clergy member to perform such a ceremony – that would be unconstitutional—support for the legalization of same-sex marriages increased to 58 percent.

Would this amendment have passed if the campaign been managed differently? No one can be sure. Many against the amendment feel that had local people been listened to, the vote could have at least been closer.

Our next step, aside from various legal challenges, should be to convene focus groups of those who opposed Amendment One. We have to ask the serious questions and plan a new strategy.

As King wrote, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Indeed, but the arc will bend only if those of us who care act wisely in our efforts to bend it.

Rabbi Fred Guttman is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.

Lesbian couple can both be child’s mother, Israeli court rules


Both members of a lesbian couple who had a child together can be recognized as the child’s mother, an Israeli court ruled.

The egg of one of the women was fertilized with donated sperm and implanted in the second woman’s uterus. Only the woman who gave birth to the baby boy was allowed to register as his mother. The second woman was told to start adoption proceedings, Ynet reported.

Instead the woman sued for recognition as the boy’s mother. On Sunday she was granted her maternity rights by the Ramat Gan Family Court. The boy is now 5 years old.

Israel’s Health Ministry outlawed the transfer of eggs from one woman to another in 2011, according to Ynet.

Meanwhile, Likud Party activist Moshe Feiglin called off a planned meeting with a homosexual group within the party after some of his American supporters complained, The Jerusalem Post reported. Feiglin, who told the newspaper that he did not believe the group has legitimacy, especially not in the party, offered to meet with members of the group individually.

He had told the group’s leader that he would meet with them, the paper reported Sunday.

Minn. rabbinical group opposes ban on same-sex marriages


Members of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association have signed a statement opposing a state ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriages.

The group represents rabbis from 15 congregations in the state from the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements. No Orthodox rabbis signed the statement, which was adopted last month.

The statement said the rabbis were unanimous in opposing the amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot recognizing marriage only as a union between a man and a woman.

In their statement, the rabbis said the amendment “seeks to continue the practice of leaving individual families within the LGBT community vulnerable and unprotected by the law. To honor an individual is to fight against discrimination in society for any reason, including race, religion, natural origin, gender, age or sexual orientation.

“Throughout history the Jewish community has faced discrimination, and therefore we will not stand by while others are targeted,” the rabbis said. “The MRA cannot condone using the constitution to deny civil rights. As rabbis, we embrace the diversity of God’s creation.”

The association “urges all Minnesotans of conscience and faith” to vote against the initiative, the statement said.

Some 42,000 Jews live in Minnesota, according to the Star-Tribune.

Jewish couple the first same-sex pair to tie knot in NYC


Two elderly Jewish women were the first same-sex couple to marry in New York City.

Phyllis Siegel, 77, and Connie Kopelov, 85, were married in Lower Manhattan at 9:02 a.m. Sunday in a ceremony witnessed by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and officiated by City Clerk Michael McSweeny. Quinn is the first openly gay speaker of the New York City Council.

Siegel and Kopelov, who have been together for 23 years, reportedly were among 659 couples—gay and straight—who received marriage licenses on Sunday and 484 who held marriage ceremonies.

“It was just so amazing,” Siegel told the New York Post. “It’s the only way I can describe it. I lost my breath and a few tears.”

The couples married exactly one month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure enacted by the State Legislature allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Also Sunday in New York City, Gregory Levin, 32, and Shane Serkiz, 33, of the Astoria section of Queens, who have been engaged since 1999, were the first same-sex couple married in that borough.

And at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s home in New York, Mayor Mike Bloomberg officiated at a wedding for city Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz and mayoral policy adviser John Feinblatt. After the vows, actor Joel Grey sang “Married” from the musical “Cabaret.” Bloomberg then introduced the traditional breaking of the glass, which the couple crushed underfoot.

Same-sex Jewish couple united in Amsterdam shul


Holland’s first same-sex Jewish commitment ceremony was held in Amsterdam.

The couple, who were not named in the Radio Netherlands report, was united Sunday in the synagogue of the Liberal Jewish Community.

The Council of Rabbis of the Dutch Union of Progressive Judaism recently ruled that such ceremonies may be held in the country’s nine Liberal synagogues. The ceremony, called a brit ahava, or covenant of love, is not an official Jewish wedding, a rabbinic spokesman told reporters.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in the Netherlands since 2001.

Same-sex couple on ‘Dancing’ sent packing


Israelis voted off the first same-sex partners on “Dancing with the Stars.”

The end for television sportscaster Gili Shem Tov and professional dancer Dorit Milman came on the third week of this season, the reality show’s fifth on the air.

Shem Tov is a lesbian married to a woman with whom she has a son. Milman, who is not a lesbian, was not aware that she had a female partner until Shem Tov walked into the studio for their first meeting.

“Because I share my life with a woman and have a family with her, to me this is the most natural thing to do,” Shem Tov said during the introductory show.

“Dancing with the Stars,” based on the British “Strictly Come Dancing” show, was the first of 35 versions broadcast in countries around the world to have same-sex partners.

Judaism and Same-Sex Marriage


While voting to keep intact the marriages of approximately 18,000 Californians, including many Jewish couples, the California Supreme Court voted today to uphold Proposition 8, an initiative that amended California’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.  Another chapter in the longer story of same-gender marriage in California has ended, and yet another is already beginning.  Here in Los Angeles County, demonstrations against the ban are already underway in Leimert Park and more are planned for East Los Angeles and West Hollywood.  Activists on both sides of the issue are mobilizing in anticipation of another ballot initiative in 2010 or 2012.

Meanwhile, the broader discussion will continue.  To get an early start, let’s examine just one of the charges made by those who oppose equal rights to civil marriage for same-gender couples: Such marriages would “change the traditional definition of marriage.” Well, chevrah, we of Judaism’s Reform movement have lived, for generations now, with an earth shattering “change to the traditional definition of marriage,”—only our world hasn’t shattered yet. Despite the staggering shocks that today’s economy has dealt to most of us, Reform Judaism remains the United States’ largest Jewish denomination. Reform Jews continue to marry and to create families and new Jewish generations.

What is it that we’ve done?  Effectively and ritually, Reform Judaism has transformed marriage from a kinyan (an acquisition) to a brit (contract). For years, Reform Jewish marriage has not been the transfer of a bride from her father’s stewardship to her husband’s. It is a contract between two Jews who are absolutely equal in their right to give themselves to each other. For such Jews, the kiddushin (sanctity) in marriage is not about setting a woman aside for one man only, but rather in setting aside a couple for each other. For Reform Jews, says Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, “sanctity only exists in the context of equality.”

Sanctity. Not license, not ‘anything goes,’ but a deep, moral sense that each competent adult Jew has equal status—and that only her Creator can trump a human being’s ownership of her own person. Judaism’s understanding of human dignity is very old—the first thing we learn about ourselves in the TANAKH is that the human was created in the image of God. However, our association of this understanding with bone-deep moral outrage at the idea of human chattel is pretty new. In the days of our country’s Civil War, both Reform Rabbi David Einhorn and Conservative Rabbi Sabato Morais were hounded by their respective communities for their staunch opposition to human slavery—an institution that our Rabbis mitigated but did not condemn unequivocally. This horror of enslavement and fierceness for equal rights under the law is part of the heritage of modernity that Reform Jews have embraced—as an expression of the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

As Rabbi Denise Eger, newly installed president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California said when asked if lesbian or gay marriages are l’daat Moshe (according to the Law of Moses), “What is daat? Tradition. Since the 1820’s, Reform Judaism has been developing Jewish tradition to include mutuality and equality.”

This emphasis on equality may be expressed in ketubot that depart from the traditional assignment of different roles in the marriage based on gender. Some Reform Jews, who marry under a chuppah, sign innovative ketubot that commit them to mutual responsibilities. Others make a brit ahuvim, a partnership pact and set of rituals developed by Dr. Rachel Adler for Jews who wish to “acquire a partnership.” Like many Reform Jews who find ourselves reaching back across a paradigm shift to an engagement with Jewish law, Adler is concerned that such concepts as holiness and separation have not been sufficiently explored in a Reform context and wants to be very deliberate about the meanings behind the rituals we perform.

Conservative Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor at the American Jewish University and leader in Jews For Marriage Equality points out that, long before the issue of lesbian and gay marriage arose, there have been Jews who have not recognized Reform marriages anyway—let alone marriages performed by secular authorities. Dorff reminds us that, “Rabbi Isaac Klein, of blessed memory, long ago wrote a responsum that was approved by the CJLS [The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards] that states that although Jews should get married with chuppah and kiddushin, if they got married through civil law alone, retroactively that is considered a marriage, and the couple would need a get to dissolve their marriage in Jewish law. Rabbi Klein reasoned that is even more evidence than their sexual intercourse that they intended to be considered as married.”

In other words, for traditional Jews, marriage “through civil law alone,” along with Reform marriage, has been considered to be the same as shacking up. Traditional congregations only recognize such marriages if they are between Jews who are permitted to one another, as having been effected through intercourse. Furthermore, even though civil law permits, say, the former Mrs. Schwartz to marry Mr. Cohen at City Hall—and they could marry in a Reform congregation—no Orthodox synagogue has ever been made to perform such a ceremony or to recognize the resulting marriage.

It’s just wrong to claim that civil marriage equality would force changes on religious institutions. No rabbi has ever been forced by civil law to conduct a marriage between a divorcée and a Kohen, just as the availability of non-Kosher food in the general marketplace doesn’t force cheeseburger onto anybody’s plate.

Robin Podolsky is a writer and former press secretary to State Senator Sheila Kuehl

Gays get married and I’m still single


I hate gay men. OK, so I don’t literally hate them — some of my best … no, actually my best friend is a gay man — but I hate that there’s yet another group of guys who are unavailable to me. Married people, actors, Republicans and other men who don’t like women: Gay men.

In this town, it’s not like you run into that many — I’m talking about Republicans and married men. But gay men are everywhere. Forget the regular challenges of being single amid the bevy of anorexic beauties who migrate to Hollywood. The single woman’s real plight is: Who among the available men is gay? And who is just really, really good looking?

Right now, at this very moment, I am staring at a pleasant man in what could only be described as a lime green polo shirt — with the actual polo player guy in lavender. His collar is flipped up, his sunglasses are tucked into the open collar, and peeking out beneath his loose and trendy Joe’s jeans are brown leather flip-flops with a flower on them.

“You or me?” I ask Jeff, my best friend, who is gay. It’s a game we play: Guy walks by, we both look, and I — of no gay-dar whatsoever — must ask in coded language if the man is gay or straight. Is he for you (gay) or me (straight)?

“You, you, you!” Jeff proclaims. How can he tell? Apparently gay men have a secret Spockian eye-blink language that communicates “I am gay. Death to straight people. Wanna play?”

Jeff is right, because despite the outfit, the man walks over to a pretty, peppy woman with a baby carriage. His girlfriend. Wife. Baby Mama. Whatever: He’s taken, so I don’t care.

One of the beautiful things about having a best friend who is gay is that it lets me witness an alternate dating world. It’s as if the rules of gravity there have been suspended.

For example, some gay guys don’t want committed relationships, and they date just to have fun (unlike straight women who say this, they actually mean it).

Or they have a boyfriend and date at the same time (none of this staying-with-the-wrong person thing because you are worried about never meeting someone else — you already have someone else).

Or maybe “Fidelity is just a goal,” Jeff says. “Not a rule.”

It’s quite refreshing for someone like me, coming from the very straight-laced Jewish community where you date, you become exclusive, you get engaged, you get married (hopefully you fall in love along the way) — and it lasts forever and ever, till death — death! — do us part. It’s a lot to live up to, if you think about it.

So maybe that’s why I’ve found it somewhat disconcerting these last few weeks, witnessing the gay community’s response to the California State Supreme Court’s ruling allowing gay marriage. As a civil libertarian, I am all for it. I truly believe that every human being should have equal civil rights, especially in the United States of America, which prides itself on it.

So of course I believe gay people have the right to get married.

But, after meeting, talking and waiting in line with couples to get their marriage licenses, my question is, do I believe in marriage at all?

“This is something that every woman has dreamed of since the day she was born!” one woman in a white dress told me as she waited in line for her marriage certificate at West Hollywood Park last week.

I nodded, but I didn’t agree.

Dream about marriage since the day we were born? Not I. I am glad that she can have something she has always dreamed of. I am glad people can fulfill a right that has always been denied them (making it even more desirable).

But after witnessing the sheer joy of the couples waiting to get licenses, I realize it’s not marriage I’m against but the whole wedding culture. The whole hoopla, the pomp and circumstance, the dressing up, the everyone-has-to-wear-whatever-we-tell-them and the play-whatever-silly-bridal-shower-and-bachelorette-party-games-no-one-likes kind of attitude.

I’m like Mr. Big in the “Sex and the City” movie, who is all for getting married but doesn’t want to get carried away by the obnoxious bad taste of a big wedding.

But wait. There’s hope. Not to be stereotypical, but (many) gay people don’t often have bad taste. Maybe there won’t be any let’s-make-a-fake-hat-out-of-bridal-paper-wrappings games. Maybe there won’t be any more you-must-look-uglier-than-the-bride turquoise bridesmaid dresses you’ll never wear again.

Think “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” meets “Bridezillas.” Maybe gay marriage is just what the world needs to make weddings sane. Maybe it’s here to remind us what commitment is all about — not a wedding, but a license.

Last week I met two men in their 80s who had just gotten their marriage license.

“Mazal tov,” I told them, and they laughed: “People are only now wishing us congratulations, but we’ve been together 43 years.”

Big Bay Area Jewish turnout for gay weddings


SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—Three years ago, Sharon Papo and Amber Weiss stood under a chupah in a Santa Cruz redwood grove and recited their vows before 100 relatives and friends.

They stomped on a glass, stood nose to nose wrapped in a tallit and sipped from a kiddush cup—Jewish rituals that sealed them forever. But to the government, their union was invisible.

That changed this week in San Francisco when they added one word—lawfully—that was absent from their original vows.

“Amber, my bashert, my beloved,” Papo said to Weiss inside San Francisco City Hall. “… I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife.”

Just hours before, Papo and Weiss had taken their ivory-beaded chiffon wedding gowns out of the closet of their Berkeley home, hopped on local transit and walked into City Hall to exchange vows once more.

This time they had legal recognition.

On May 15, the California Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that all citizens have a constitutional right to marry. Consequently, the court said in its sweeping ruling, the state cannot prohibit gay and lesbian couples from legally marrying.

Papo, 29, and Weiss, 31, married June 17, the first day same-sex marriages were legally sanctioned by the state.

Hundreds of same-sex couples across the state legally married that day, including 152 at San Francisco City Hall.

Jews representing numerous organizations set up a chupah, made from a rainbow-striped tallit, near the steps of City Hall. Volunteers passed out plates of marble cake frosted with the phrase “Mazel Tov,” and invited couples to partake in the rituals of circling one another and breaking a glass. A klezmer band inspired many rounds of the song “Siman Tov U’ Mazel Tov.”

“It’s so nice to see our community celebrate around such positive energy,” said Lisa Finkelstein, the director of the LGBT Alliance in San Francisco.

Journalists followed Papo and Weiss like a bridal party, capturing the historic moment. About 30 photographers surrounded them in the City Hall rotunda, their camera shutters clicking so furiously that witnesses could barely hear the vows.

The women’s eyes glistened during the ceremony. Only when officiant Mariposa Bernstein said what they had never heard before—“By the power vested in me by the state of California”—did the joyous couple let tears dampen their faces.

For many couples married that day, the ceremony was not the first time they had pledged to love each other in sickness and in health, till death do they part.

Weiss and Papo, for instance, married in 2005 in Santa Cruz, with Rabbis Lavey Derby of Tiburon’s Congregation Kol Shofar and Paula Marcus of Aptos’ Temple Beth El co-officiating.

“In our hearts, we’re married,” Papo said. “But now we’re married in the eyes of the state, and that means the world to us.”

Craig Persiko and Geoff Benjamin, both of San Francisco, spent a year planning a traditional Jewish ceremony, which they held in May 2000 at Buena Vista Park in this city, five years after first meeting through mutual friends in Chicago.

They married again one year later in Vermont, and a third time in 2004, when state Assemblyman Mark Leno married the couple at San Francisco City Hall while they held their then-7-month-old daughter, Serafina.

“As far as my relationship, I don’t feel any different,” Persiko said back in 2004, “but on a political level, it feels really empowering.”

The couple performed their vows for a fourth time Saturday in their backyard in conjunction with a joint birthday party for their son and daughter. Cakes for both occasions sweetened the afternoon.

Rabbi Mychal Copeland and Kirsti Copeland were married eight years ago by two rabbinic students on the New Jersey campus of Princeton University. The Jewish wedding was “a very powerful experience and awakened our friends and family to the permanency of our relationship,” Rabbi Copeland said, but “it meant nothing at all in the civic sense.

Since their wedding, they have become mothers and wed a second time at San Francisco City Hall.

On June 18, the couple celebrated their marriage with a third wedding ceremony at the San Mateo County Courthouse. Not wanting to overshadow their original vows, it was a civil ceremony.

“We already sanctified our union through the eyes of our religious tradition,” said Rabbi Copeland, who works at the Stanford University Hillel. “It makes me realize the irony that in some of our communities, Judaism was ahead of this country’s legal system by decades.”

Finkelstein said at San Francisco City Hall, she was proud to see representation from Congregations Sha’ar Zahav and Emanu-El, the San Francisco-based Jewish community federation and the East Bay federation, Jewish Community Relations Council, the Progressive Jewish Alliance and Jewish Mosaic.

Near the chupah outside City Hall, “Energy 92.7” had set up a tent to broadcast live, interviewing “just married” couples and offering champagne flutes of sparkling cider.

Each time a couple walked outside—marriage licenses proudly raised in the air—the crowd erupted in applause. Supporters banged on drums and waved rainbow banners.

Members of the First Unitarian Church gave away nearly 400 cupcakes. Wedding photographers and pastry chefs passed out fliers and heart-shaped chocolates to advertise their services. A Mission Kids preschool class snaked through the crowd wearing green T-shirts. Their teacher, Abigail Sawyer, said she wanted to inspire “support for equality from a young age.”

Same-sex couples from around the country flocked to the Golden State this week, since unlike Massachusetts, marriage licenses were granted to California residents and nonresidents alike.

Mike Silverman and Dave Greenbaum traveled from Lawrence, Kan., to wed in San Francisco. They were married nine years ago at an Omaha, Neb., synagogue, an occasion that inspired them to scour Jewish wedding books and design a ceremony with “the right kavanah,” intention.

On June 17, they wed inside City Hall, one wearing a Hillel T-shirt from the University of Kansas. They then circled one another under the chupah outside.

“While the civil recognition was important, for me as a Conservative Jew it was real when I said the Shehechiyanu and properly acknowledged the source of this immense and profound blessing,” Greenbaum said.

Will Kansas recognize the Silverman-Greenbaum marriage when the couple returns to their home state?

“I’ll hold out for the Moshiach first,” Greenbaum joked.

The issue of gay marriage has been moving through the California courts since 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued the order to grant licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

The state Legislature twice approved bills giving same-sex couples the right to marry, but they were vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In preparation for the marriage rush, San Francisco and other counties deputized numerous volunteer marriage commissioners.

Jared Scherer, 34, signed up and on June 17 officiated at the marriage of his friends Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones during an emotional ceremony. Scherer looked official in a black gown, which he last wore during his commencement at Brandeis University.

“It was absolutely incredible, a true honor,” said Scherer, who is Jewish, about presiding over the marriage of his non-Jewish friends. “I felt really lucky to be able to help move the cause forward.”

“The cause” could hit a brick wall in November when a ballot initiative—if approved by a majority of voters—would define marriage as “valid and recognized” only between a man and a woman.

In light of this vulnerability, Karen Erlichman, the Bay Area director of Jewish Mosaic, a national LGBT nonprofit, says it is especially important for individuals and organizations to show support for marriage equality.

Two of the 14 couples in the Supreme Court case are interfaith Jewish couples: Diane Sabin and Jewelle Gomez live in San Francisco; Robin Tyler and Diane Olson reside in Los Angeles and were the first couple married June 16 at the Los Angeles County Courthouse in Beverly Hills.

The 14 couples were represented by several legal nonprofits, including the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Vanessa Eismann, a lawyer and a member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, worked on the case through the center.

Eismann said it was a professional privilege and a deeply personal pursuit. She and her partner, Cate Whiting, were married by a Los Angeles rabbi in 2005.

The absence of legality didn’t temper their joy, Eismann said, but since both are lawyers, the couple knew that “regardless of how lavish a ceremony you have, you’re only legally married when the license is signed.”

The 33-year-old San Franciscan gave birth to a baby boy in April, and the couple say they want their son to grow up knowing his parents are married. Eismann said that was a shared sentiment among many of the plaintiffs.

“Often the desire to marry isn’t just for the couples themselves but out of a desire for their children to be treated equally under the law,” she said.

Eismann and Whiting will take their marriage certificate with them to Los Angeles, so the rabbi who signed their ketubah, or Jewish marriage certificate, finally can sign their legal marriage license as well.

“This battle isn’t over,” Eismann said. “Unfortunately, our rights are being put up for a popular vote.”

Jewish couples are fighting for marriage equality in numerous ways.

Kathy Levinson and Naomi Fine of Palo Alto are choosing not to marry this summer. Instead, they will donate the money they would have spent on a formal wedding ceremony to organizations campaigning for marriage equality.

Papo and Weiss have asked friends and relatives in lieu of wedding gifts to “make a contribution to fight this hate bill,” suggesting that donations go to Marriage Equality USA or Equality California.

They have also decided to be as public as possible with their sexual orientation. Papo casually mentions her relationship to everyone she encounters—the clerk at Office Max, the salesman at the shoe store. Likewise, Weiss always introduces Papo as her wife.

“It makes it personal,” Weiss said. “It’s harder to vote against the civil rights of someone you know.”

Gay rabbis getting married — and marrying


It’s almost 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 17, and the line at the West Hollywood Park snakes around itself, as some 400 people wait to obtain marriage licenses on this first official day that the State of California is issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples (aside from one wedding on Monday).

Some men wear tuxedoes, some men wear suits, a few women are in white (a few women are in suits), but most of the couples are decked out in California casual on this momentous day. By far the most interesting – and photographed — group is situated in the middle of the line, holding up a white chuppah on bamboo poles and the banner of their synagogue: Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC).

The first gay and lesbian synagogue, located on Pico Boulevard, has brought 10 couples here to get marriage licenses. Some, like the Hales – Cara in a bridal outfit of an ivory lace top and trousers, and Heidi in a gray pinstripe suit and silver tie — have had Jewish weddings already. Others, like Davi and Bracha Cheng, were married before (in San Francisco four years ago, annulled by the court two months later). Itay Seigel and Tony Gregory Smith had never been married at all — not out-of-town, out-of-state or Jewishly.

“For us, it’s the right time and the right place,” they said. Another was the rabbi of BCC, Lisa Edwards, who was both obtaining her own license and marrying five couples in the park afterward. In the summer, she will perform more than 20 weddings — and have a civil ceremony with her partner, Tracy Moore.

It is a momentous day for gay and lesbian couples — but doubly meaningful for rabbis in same-sex relationships: Not only can they marry, but they can perform legal marriages for other same-sex couples, too. And as Jewish leaders — who have fought a number of battles for civil rights, first for acceptance in the Jewish community and then for acceptance as rabbis — this is one of the most important steps in the fight for equality. (The next hurdle would be to see gay marriage made legal and available in every state).

Three L.A. rabbis have taken different paths to solidifying their unions, and each has different feelings about the State of California’s legal sea change. For Edwards, who will marry her longtime partner in a civil ceremony this summer, it was her Jewish wedding 13 years ago that was most meaningful. For Wilshire Boulevard’s Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein, who just celebrated a 10-year commitment renewal for his Jewish wedding and will have a civil ceremony and party on July 13, the newfound right to a civil marriage offers much satisfaction. But for Rabbi Don Goor, senior rabbi of Temple Judea, the new law is meaningful, but he won’t have to do anything. He already married his partner, in Canada four years ago. The California Supreme Court decision simply means that his marriage will now officially be recognized.

Same-sex marriage and the fabric of society: What does it all mean?


If you look at the fine print, last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage doesn’t change much in practical terms. Domestic partnership, available to Californians since 2005, gave couples nearly all the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, outside of a few arcane legal details. And calling it marriage in California still does not trump the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which since 1996 has defined marriage as between a man and woman.

At the same time, no one denies that the ruling changes everything.

For some, it is a spiritual moment of human dignity finally resting upon everyone. For others, it is a sign that society is being sucked into an eddy of moral dissolution.

Many who are not directly affected are still processing and digesting the new reality, with the long-term implications up for grabs. As people begin to take the word “marriage” out of quotes when referring to same-gender couples, many questions come up. What do the ceremonies look like? What about divorce? Intermarriage? How will this affect the November ballot initiative to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage? And there are the larger philosophical questions of what marriage means and who makes the rules for a whole society.

What’s the Difference?

Although the actual legal differences are scant, attorney Jenny Pizer says the implications are more than symbolic.

“In practical terms, domestic partnership has resulted in confusion, and the status has not been respected the way it was intended,” said Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal and one of the members of a team representing couples in the Supreme Court case. “People are familiar with marriage, and having same-sex couples be in a different system has often caused people to err on the side of not respecting rights, which is not what we had hoped would happen.”

Using the same nomenclature can help others understand that gay and lesbian couples want the same thing as straight couples — the ability to express their love in a way society understands, under the protection of the law, providing a strong family structure.

The May 16 Supreme Court decision was sweeping in its language, saying that like all other rights, marriage couldn’t be limited to only a portion of the population. The broad decision put discrimination against gays and lesbians into the same legal category as race or gender discrimination.

That inclusiveness also made many gays and lesbians see this as a spiritual moment, whether or not they plan to marry.

“It been such a fight for civil rights over such a long period of time, that this is an affirmation of our humanity and our dignity,” said Rabbi Denise Eger, rabbi of Kol Ami Synagogue in West Hollywood, a Reform congregation with a large gay and lesbian population. “Something that we have always talked about is the notion of b’tzelem Elohim, being created in the image of the Divine, and for the same notion to be echoed in a secular court, I think for many people has been uplifting and has been affirming of their humanity.”

Same-sex unions roil Jews in former Soviet Union


The resignation of a longtime leader of one of the largest Reform congregations in Ukraine has thrown the spotlight on a bitter controversy over homosexuality within the post-Soviet Reform movement.
 
Boris Kapustin, 70, founder and chairman of the Reform congregation in the Crimean town of Kerch, quit his post in September.
 
While Ukrainian Reform leaders cite Kapustin’s age and health concerns as reasons for his resignation, Kapustin said his resignation stemmed from his opposition to the movement’s acceptance of same-sex commitment ceremonies.
 
“I don’t want to participate in a movement that has organized a chuppah for lesbians, which happened in Moscow this year,” Kapustin said.
 
He was referring to Rabbi Nelly Shulman, who officiated at an April 2 commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. It is believed to be the first Jewish, same-sex commitment ceremony in the former Soviet Union.
 
A strong backlash greeted the move by Shulman, who insisted she officiated at the ceremony on her own private initiative and was not backed in any way by her group, OROSIR, the umbrella organization of Reform Judaism in Russia.
 
In a strongly worded statement, the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities, the largest stream in the former Soviet Union, urged a boycott of the Reform movement. There were also repercussions within the Progressive movement, as Reform Judaism is referred to in the region.
 
In late April, Zinovy Kogan resigned as chairman of the movement’s Moscow-based umbrella group. In August, a Reform congregation in the Ukrainian town of Pavlograd wrote to all Reform synagogues in the country, urging them to “renounce all religious contacts with the people who committed that crime,” a reference to the lesbian ceremony.
 
Responding to the wave of criticism from their communities, the six Reform rabbis working in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have agreed to ban such ceremonies for the time being, saying that post-Soviet citizens, including Jews, are not yet prepared to accept the Reform movement’s liberal approach to homosexuality.
 
Homosexuality was only decriminalized after the fall of the Soviet Union 15 years ago. According to a recent poll, 37 percent of Russians still believe gays and lesbians should be criminally prosecuted.
 
Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, the Kiev-based leader of the Reform movement in Ukraine, said that Reform Jews who criticize the ceremony “completely misunderstand Reform Judaism, which teaches tolerance and respect toward the choice of each and every individual.”
 
Nevertheless, when Dukhovny is approached by same-sex couples who want to arrange such a ceremony, “I tell them that neither our community nor society is ready for this.”
 
Esfir Mikhailova, recently appointed as Kapustin’s successor in Kerch, refused to speculate on this aspect of Kapustin’s resignation.
 
“At our board meeting, Kapustin told us he decided to retire because of his age and problems with health,” Mikhailova said.
 
Dukhovny praised Kapustin’s role in building a “strong congregation” in this Crimean town of 160,000.
 
The Kerch Progressive congregation, which Kapustin founded in 1997, has 1,000 members, virtually all the town’s Jews and their families. It is considered a leading light among the 70-odd Reform communities in the former Soviet Union.
 
A retired Soviet navy officer, Kapustin is credited by many local Jews with building a strong and unified Jewish community. That is a rarity in a region where Jewish life is often plagued by infighting among Chabad, non-Chabad Orthodox and Reform groups.
 
Also rare is the congregation’s monopoly over local Jewish life. Kerch is one of a handful of Reform communities anywhere in the former Soviet Union that owns its own building, a 19th century synagogue returned to the congregation as part of a government program of religious property restitution. The community restored the building and reopened it in 2001.
 
Chabad does not have a presence in the town.
 
“This is one of the largest and the best functioning, congregations in Ukraine,” said Alexander Gaydar, executive director of the Association of Progressive Jewish Congregations of Ukraine.
 
The congregation runs religious, cultural, educational and charitable programs; youth and women’s clubs; senior center; family Sunday school; Jewish museum, and theater group. Funds come from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Almost everyone in the Kerch community credits Kapustin’s leadership for the congregation’s success.
 
Kapustin’s son, Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin, 26, was ordained a year ago at the Leo Baeck College in London. The youngest of the six Reform rabbis in the former Soviet Union, he serves the Reform congregation in Kkarkov, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
 
Neither he nor Reform Jews in Kerch believe the elder Kapustin’s resignation will harm the congregation he built.
 
“Boris Kapustin has retired, but he built a good basis for the congregation, which will continue to develop,” Dukhovny said.
 

According to a recent poll, 37 percent of Russians still believe gays and lesbians should be criminally prosecuted.