From AJT Staff Reports
The end of U.S. bans on same-sex marriage brought cheers from Jewish organizations and from many rabbis in the less traditional streams of Judaism, but the Orthodox Union remained steadfast in its position that homosexual relationships are forbidden by Jewish Scripture.
“Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman,” the OU said in a statement issued shortly after the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling that bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. “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.”
The OU said the law is not and should not be determined by any religion. “We accord the process and its result the utmost respect.”
For the Anti-Defamation League, however, Friday, June 26, was “a great day for civil rights history. And it is a great day for all Americans.”
The ADL said its work on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community included a brief it filed with the court on behalf of 25 organizations opposed to bans on same-sex marriage.
“While we recognize there is not universal agreement on this issue, this is a decision enthusiastically welcomed by our rabbis and throughout the Reform Movement,” Temple Sinai’s rabbis — Ron Segal, Brad Levenberg, Elana Perry and Phil Kranz — said in an emailed statement. “Through sermons, bulletin articles, educational sessions and e-news postings, we have repeatedly espoused our belief in and support for marriage equality as well as our willingness to stand with any couple who chooses to sanctify a loving and committed relationship. With tremendous pride, we celebrate this momentous day knowing we have done what our tradition has commanded Jews to do since the dawn of time — stand for dignity, equality, justice and love.”
Many Atlanta-area Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative rabbis had listed themselves as prepared to perform same-sex marriages in anticipation of the ruling, and some had performed the ceremonies before June 26. Those movements all applauded the ruling.
Temple Kol Emeth Rabbi Steven Lebow said a same-sex couple he had married sent him a note expressing interest in reaffirming their vows in Georgia now that it is legal. As legal same-sex marriage spread to most states the past few years, “I did the religious service here in Atlanta, and then they had to leave the state to, say, go to D.C. or New York City to be legally married.”
He said it’s sad that more of the Jewish community didn’t offer support for same-sex marriage 30 years ago, but “we’re grateful to have them at any case to be a part of the movement.”
“What surprised me is how deeply it touched me,” said Congregation Bet Haverim Rabbi Josh Lesser, who has worked toward marriage equality since 1993 and has officiated at same-sex weddings for 18 years. “I happened to be with a group at the synagogue when we found out, so we immediately said the Shehecheyanu, but I couldn’t finish the words because tears were starting to come from my eyes.”
He said the ruling presents an opportunity for Judaism’s wisdom to help build a stronger community.
“I felt like there was a part of my dignity that was recognized for the very first time by our state and by our country that I’ve lived with since I’ve known that I was gay,” Rabbi Lesser said.
“This is a secular ruling, it is a civil ruling, and I think it is absolutely necessary for dignity and equality in our country, and I have also felt as a religious person that there is holiness in those relationships,” said Congregation Gesher L’Torah Rabbi Michael Bernstein, who said he has officiated at same-sex weddings outside Georgia. “One of my favorite things to do is a wedding.”
He said the Atlanta Jewish community has shown tremendous respect to LGBT Jews, and now he thinks the entire community will benefit from the ruling. “It is a reinforcement of the holiness of love and why we put it at the center of so much that we do.”
The potential effects on the community are exciting for Rabbi Malka Packer of InterfaithFamily/Atlanta, who moved here from upstate New York less than two months ago. “The only thing I was concerned about was moving to a state where marriage is not legal for myself. That was a little scary,” she said. “So it was so amazing that a few weeks later it changed.”
Like Rabbi Lesser, Rabbi Packer’s emotional reaction caught her off-guard. “As soon as I got the text that they made this ruling, I just started tearing up and was just so overjoyed and so surprised that I was surprised this has happened. It was so overwhelming. It was just so thrilling.”
Both the ADL and SOJOURN Assistant Director Robbie Medwed are looking for anti-discrimination legislation as the next step to protect the LGBT community.
“As happy as we are with marriage equality,” Medwed said, “it is important to note that it is still completely legal in Georgia to discriminate against someone who is LGBT. They can be denied housing, they can be fired from their job, and they can be denied service. All of these things happen because Georgia has no nondiscrimination laws.”
Rabbi Lebow focused on the transgender community as the next important legal and social area.
“A lot of people are comfortable with gay men and lesbians, and a lot of people are, no matter of how liberal they may proclaim themselves, they are very uncomfortable in working with the trans community,” he said.
The OU, meanwhile, said the first crucial question after the marriage ruling is whether the law will continue to protect religious liberty and diversity and accommodate people and institutions whose religious beliefs block their support for same-sex relationships.
David R. Cohen, Ariel Pinsky, Sophie Zelony and Michael Jacobs contributed to this report.