Tag Archives: equality

Marriage Equality: Turning the Tide Towards an Idea Whose Time Has Come

Marriage Equality: Turning the Tide Towards an Idea Whose Time Has Come

by Rabbi Rick Brody

As one who has never been quiet about my advocacy for equal rights and inclusion for the queer (LGBTQ) community, including marriage equality, and as the unnamed husband in a popular submission on the Huffington Post from a rabbi who staunchly promotes those same values, I figured it was time for me to offer up a post of my own.

A Facebook friend shared a communication from MoveOn.org about marriage equality and criticized it for being propaganda that conflated a notion of inevitability (“You can’t stop an idea whose time has come”) with the need for a “revolutionary vanguard” (his words) to push the revolution (“Help us turn the tide”). He then compared this phenomenon of “turning the tide” to that of the Bolsheviks. He also mistakenly spoke about the “pushing” of “gay marriage.”

Here is the post in question, followed by an adaptation of my response to my friend. I should clarify from the outset that I have no affiliation with MoveOn.org and, while I agree with many of the stances the organization takes, I make no official endorsement of anything it says or does:

While I make no hesitation in expressing my absolute conviction in the moral necessity for marriage equality, I’m not interested in debating the “merits” of my views or criticizing someone else’s; what I am interested in doing is clarifying the way you framed the issue and the particular “propaganda” you have criticized above because I believe you have severely misunderstood and distorted the message:

No one is “pushing” for “gay marriage.” The issue is equality under the law. I’m not pushing for atheism when I demand that Christian bias be removed from public textbooks and classrooms. Nor am I pushing for abortion when I demand that a woman be left free to care for her own body as she so chooses without the government getting between her doctor and her vagina. As many have said, “If you’re opposed to abortion, then don’t have one.” And, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” The “implementation of a policy” that you’re referring to is not about a revolutionary change. It’s about taking the rights afforded to some and extending them to all, equally. Perhaps more to the point, it’s about ending a particular policy, one of discrimination. No one ever spoke about heterosexual marriage as a “policy,” at least not until people began challenging hetero-only marriage as a discriminatory policy. It just simply was, and nobody gave any thought to that reality being any different, because enough brave people hadn’t yet spoken up and begun living their lives openly and honestly, demonstrating to the world that there is no logical, rational, or ethical reason to prohibit them from having the same access and entitlements to this “policy.” Those of us arguing for marriage equality are saying that the new status quo of equal protection under the law also should not be a “policy;” it simply should be what it is.

As for “the idea whose time has come,” I understand the comment to be not in conflict with the notion of “turning the tide.” I see it this way: A critical mass of people obviously already exists to challenge the status quo, raise the consciousness of others, and expand the conversation about marriage equality. It is part of the national conversation; the courts have established this fact by their repeated hearing of the legal challenges at various levels of the judicial system, the majority of state legislatures have felt the need to address the issue one way or another in their laws (while, again, 30 years ago it was a non-issue), and the president has commented on it repeatedly. So, undoubtedly, the idea has “arrived.” One of the only things in its way is bigoted lawmakers who refuse to see the ethical necessity of accepting this idea. MoveOn is saying, “the idea is here and we, supporters of equality, are not going to let it go away because we believe in it unflinchingly.” So it’s not a comment about descriptive inevitability–even though it is a fact that regularly, more and more people, especially younger people, poll in growing numbers in favor of marriage equality. The comment is one of the ethical appeal of the idea and the fact that supporters of it will not rest until the idea becomes the law.

Call that propaganda if you like, but Thomas Paine was an extraordinary propagandist and he helped us enshrine an idea (an independent democracy free of royal tyranny) that I hear few people in this country complaining about well over 200 years later. The suffragists of a century ago also succeeded in spreading the necessary propaganda for dismantling gender-based discrimination in voting rights. Not every “idea whose time has come” is another Bolshevik disaster. Sometimes it’s just a matter of what’s right. And helping “turn the tide” to ensure the success of an idea whose time has come is also just the right thing to do.

The Latest in the “Gay Rabbis” Debate

Rabbi quits seminary over exclusion of gays,” reports the Jerusalem Post.

I applaud Rabbi Tamar Elad-Applebaum for a courageous decision to stand by her ethical convictions and resign from Machon Schechter, the Masorti (Conservative) rabbinical school in Israel, which is becoming less and less representative of the Masorti Movement there.

I studied at Machon Schechter as part of my “equivalency” studies while a student at RRC, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. At the time, neither American Conservative rabbinical school was accepting or ordaining openly gay students, but the majority of the student bodies, many faculty, and other leaders were pushing for change and we all knew it was a matter of time. A handful of years ago, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed a teshuvah (rabbinical decision) that permitted same-sex relationships, essentially rejecting all rabbinically imposed restrictions or discriminations towards such relationships (and obviously also towards the people engaged in them or inclined to engage in them), except for the most literal understanding of the Torah prohibition in Lev. 18:22. (Many believe there is even interpretive room for rendering that perspective — which technically proscribes male-male genital-anal intercourse — as legally obsolete, presumably, at least, in the context of a loving, adult, covenantal relationship.)

Shortly after this ruling, the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies (at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles)  and then the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York changed their admission and ordination standards to provide full equality to openly gay students. It was a great change for those of us (whether officially part of the Conservative Movement or not) who support the idea of adherance to traditional Jewish practice and the value of a Jewish legal process in the context of a relevant and ethical worldview grounded in equality for all those earnestly engaged in such an endeavor. But, as with many (though not all) questions of social norms, Israeli society lags a bit behind the American pace.

A couple of years after the Ziegler School changed its policies, it made another important change regarding its year of Israel study for its students. No longer would students study for the year at Machon Schechter but rather at the Conservative Yeshiva, a learning project of the Conservative Movement that is open to non-rabbinical students as well, and to Jews of any sexual orientation. I don’t know how much that issue of inclusion influenced the original decision, but in light of the story about Rabbi Elad-Applebaum, it seems to me that Ziegler made a very wise choice to disassociate itself with Schechter, which appears to be stuck in some kind of moral (and halachic) vacuum on this issue. I feel terrible for those who wish to pursue rabbinical ordination as Masorti Jews in Israel who, whether because of their sexual orientation or, like Rabbi Elad-Applebaum, cannot abide being part of a discriminatory institution. Perhaps Schechter will eventually “see the light” on this issue. In the meantime, I would love to see JTS make the same change Ziegler did and send its students directly to the CY for their Israel year. Maybe the CY will form a s’michah (ordination) program. At this point, if I were a rabbinical student choosing where to study in Jerusalem (regardless of what American seminary I was attending), I certainly would no longer consider Machon Schechter. I actually spent a year at Pardes and a second year mostly at Schechter. If I were planning such a second year now, I would give the Conservative Yeshiva serious thought.