Jewish community reacts to the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage

The news Friday that the Supreme Court of the United States had issued a 5-4 ruling making same-sex marriage legal nationwide prompted both tears and enthusiasm from many in the Los Angeles Jewish community.
June 26, 2015

The news Friday that the Supreme Court of the United States had issued a 5-4 ruling making same-sex marriage legal nationwide prompted both tears and enthusiasm from many in the Los Angeles Jewish community.

“Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. He was joined in his opinion by the court’s four liberal justices: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomeyer, and Stephen G. Breyer.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” Kennedy wrote. “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage.”

The decision marks a decisive victory in the decades-long fight for the rights of gay and lesbian families. When the court last took on the issue of same-sex marriage, in 2013, it decided that a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages, was unconstitutional, but declined to rule on a lower-court’s decision to throw out California’s Proposition 8 for procedural reasons, effectively allowing same-sex marriage in the state while leaving the constitutional questions for a later date.

Today’s decision makes same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, and requires that states recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Among those celebrating in Los Angeles is Rabbi Lisa Edwards, spiritual leader of Beth Chayim Chadashim, a LGBT-friendly congregation in Los Angeles. During a phone interview from her home on Friday morning, shortly after the announcement of the court’s ruling, Edwards said she was “crying” tears of joy due to the decision.

“People often expect voices of faith, on question of marriage, to be in the opposition camp. This is a good time to remind people there have been voices of faith, more and more, who are speaking on the side of love and the human heart,” Edwards said. “I think Judaism and other religious, what they have to say about it, is that this is an affirmation—this is an affirmation of the human heart and of our inclination to love.”

Edwards said her congregation plans to celebrate the decision during its Friday night Shabbat services tonight at Beth Chayim Chadashim. She anticipates the evening to be musical and uplifting.

For the rabbi and many others, it will be a busy night including a rally in West Hollywood that organizers had long been planning to hold on the evening of the court’s decision—even when it was still uncertain when and what the court would decide..

The rally is scheduled to take place at West Hollywood Park at 6 p.m. tonight. Members of Congregation Kol Ami, another LGBT synagogue in Los Angeles, are expected to participate. 

The court’s decision was especially meaningful to Rabbi Denise Eger, spiritual leader of Kol Ami and president of the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis.  In an email, she said that she was “overwhelmed with gratitude for this moment.” She pointed to the historical significance of the date of today’s ruling, one that was a long-time coming. 

“To think that this weekend in 1969 were the Stonewall riots and now within a generation we have this measure of equality is astounding,” she said. “Many of us have worked for many decades for this day and I have to admit I said the Shehekiyanu prayer.”

Eger also issued a statement praising the court’s decision, saying the next struggle is to work toward universal acceptance of the gay community.

“The dream has come true, but there is work to do!” she said. “The United States has taken one more step toward fulfilling the dream of a country where people can live their own lives without fear; but as we celebrate, the SCOTUS [Supreme Court] decision that gives every person the right to marry their beloved, we know the right to live in peace is still a far off dream for too many people.” 

According to a survey from February by the nonprofit Public Religion Research institute, 77 percent of Jewish Americans favor legalizing same-sex marriage; the report said that 53 percent of all American favored allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Each of the court’s four conservative justices filed individual dissents to the Court’s gay marriage ruling.

Chief Justice Roberts, in a dissent joined by Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas, wrote: “Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening.”

Roberts took issue with the court making a decision on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. The constitution, he wrote, “does not enact any one theory of marriage.”

Scalia, in a separate dissent, joined by Justice Thomas, more directly took on the constitution question, using scathing language to describe the court’s decision. He called the majority’s opinion “constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine.”

 “The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic,” he wrote.

To be sure, not everyone lauded the decision; the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America issued a statement Friday that said, in part: “Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable. At the same time, we note that Judaism teaches respect for others and we condemn discrimination against individuals.”

Conservative author and syndicated columnist Ben Shapiro said the decision did not surprise him. “I am by nature a pessimist and unfortunately in today’s world that makes me a realist.”

Many civic leaders across the Southland, however, expressed immediate and enthusiastic support Friday morning. Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Mike Bonin, both of whom are openly gay, expressed joy at news of the decision, as did City Attorney Mike Feuer, whose office wrote a brief filed with the Supreme Court on behalf of the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“Just over a decade ago, marriage equality was legal nowhere in the United States. Today, my husband Sean and I celebrate a breathtaking decision that affirms the right to marry nationwide,” Bonin wrote in a statement. “As we celebrate this historic day, the most important thing I can say is simply, ‘thank you.’”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted: “Love won.”

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