Latest update: May 10th, 2012
President Obama on Wednesday went on the record with a statement that he now supports same-sex marriage, a reversal of his longstanding opposition. Obama’s announcement followed months of pressure from his Democratic base, his staff, openly gay and lesbian service members, Vice President Joe Biden, and his wife and two daughters.
In an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts, which was excerpted on “World News with Diane Sawyer” and will appear on “Good Morning America” Thursday, the president said, “When I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
The president went out of his way to emphasize that this is only his personal position, which he had reached through a process of “evolution,” and that he still believes each state should decide the issue on its own.
He did not say what would be the role of the federal government in cases where one state refused to recognize the same-sex marriage status sanctioned by another.
Instead, the president said he was confident that more Americans would grow comfortable with gays and lesbians getting married, citing his own daughters’ comfort with the concept.
“It’s interesting, some of this is also generational,” the president mused. “You know when I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same sex equality or, you know, sexual orientation, that they believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it. You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”
The president’s statement followed Vice President Biden’s own endorsement of gay marriage on Sunday, on “Meet the Press,” saying he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriages.
Obama aides say the president and his vice president are in complete agreement on legal rights for gay couples, but the announcement represents a turnabout for the president, who has opposed gay marriage since 1996, when, as a candidate for the Illinois state Senate , he indicated support for gay marriage in a questionnaire, but his aides later denied it was his official position.
In 2004, running for the US Senate, Obama stated: “I’m a Christian. I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”
Presidential candidate Obama maintained that position throughout his 2008 campaign, and through his term as president, until Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, and the sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which was intended to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), praised President Obama for his change of mind. Nadler’s statement acknowledged the magnitude of the event:
“For the first time in this nation’s history, a sitting president has shown the courage and leadership to stand up for all American families by pledging to support the fundamental right of every person to marry the person they love, and to have that marriage fully respected.”
Nadler added that “the course toward marriage equality and justice is the correct and inevitable path.”
Despite the firm opposition of the vast majority of Orthodox authorities to gay marriages, there have been cracks in that wall.
In November, 2011, in Washington DC’s “Historic 6th and I Synagogue,” openly-gay, Orthodox-ordained Rabbi Steve Greenberg officiated at a same-sex wedding ceremony.
The radical left-wing website +972 described the event with more than a little poetic flair:
“Greenberg stood under the chupah, a traditional Jewish wedding canopy, as newlyweds Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan tied the knot before some two-hundred guests. Recognizing the unique – and controversial – moment, Greenberg’s voice notably cracked when near the end he stated, ‘By the power invested in me by the District of Columbia, I now pronounce you married.’”
Rabbi Josh Yuter, a New York City congregational rabbi and one of the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) “Top 10 Jewish Influencers in Social Media,” no closed-minded Haredi right-winger by any stretch of the imagination, has published an eloquent response to the Greenberg same-sex chupa event in his blog “Yutopia.”
Yuter wrote: “Part of the allure of Modern Orthodoxy is its willing integration with the secular world and in legitimizing a wider range of religious lifestyles than their parochial counterparts. However, the religious proscriptions against homosexual activity must necessarily limit the extent of Modern Orthodoxy’s pluralism. While the topic of homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism has been discussed at length elsewhere, the frequent focus is on individuals struggling with their personal conflicting religious and sexual identities. In contrast, gay marriage is a public announcement and celebration of two people embracing a lifestyle forbidden by Jewish law.”
Yuter’s decisive conclusion is that “regardless of how Jewish communities accommodate the needs of gays in their respective communities, the formal recognition of a homosexual marriage – male or female – would in fact be condoning a halachically prohibited union, regardless of the private behaviors of the individuals. It would therefore follow that Rabbis who are committed to halacha should therefore not officiate or participate in these ceremonies, nor should halachic communities formally recognize the couple as such, as they would with any other union prohibited by Jewish law.”
Rabbi Yuter is one of several Orthodox rabbis who, unlike Rabbi Greenberg, do not suggest there is any halachic approval of marriage between two men or two women, but nevertheless advocate tolerance and acceptance of gay men and women seeking to belong to an Orthodox community.
Orthodox Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield, president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (Rabbi Steven Greenberg happens to be a senior teaching fellow at CLAL), last year conducted an open, online discussion of gay marriages in America in the Washington Post.
While not exactly raising the banner of Orthodox gay marriages, Rabbi Hirschfield seemed to suggest, at least at one point, that Jewish law could be interpreted as being open, in theory, to homosexual relations:
“As to Jewish tradition, there are those who look to Leviticus and subsequent legal tradition which prohibits homosexual sex – not being gay, and say ‘no.’ Others look to broad principles about human dignity – also rooted in the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic tradition – and say ‘yes.’
“It seems to me, that whatever one might say to the followers of their particular faith, unless one believes that each faith should aspire to making the United States into a theocracy in its own image — imposing it’s views on everybody — we need to distinguish between that which we teach to those who choose our respective faiths, and that for which we advocate as a shared norm. The latter must almost always be wider than the former. That too is a position with deep roots in Jewish tradition.”
Rabbi Meir Fund is quoted by a website serving Orthodox gays and lesbians, as saying: “We never heard that a Jew is barred from a shul because he is a sinner. If that was the policy of halacha, then I hate to tell you I doubt there would be a minyan in any shul. I have to believe that if someone is gay, that that’s an assignment from HaShem and that HaShem is somehow also sharing with that person not just the strength to carry out the assignment as best as they can but ultimately it’s part of the life purpose of that person to have struggled and worked with that particular issue, among others, to do the best they can. These are the secrets of the soul.”
The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) last December issued a press release which, likewise, notes the difference between Orthodox Judaism’s treatment of the sin and the sinner:
“The Torah and Jewish tradition, in the clearest of terms, prohibit the practice of homosexuality. Same-sex unions are against both the letter and the spirit of Jewish law, which sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony.
“Attempts to ritualize or celebrate same-sex unions are antithetical to Jewish law. Any clergyman who performs or celebrates a same-sex union cannot claim the mantle of Orthodox Judaism.
“While homosexual behavior is prohibited, individuals with homosexual inclinations should be treated with the care and concern appropriate to all human beings. As Rabbis we recognize the acute and painful challenges faced by homosexual Jews in their quest to remain connected and faithful to God and tradition. We urge those Orthodox Jews with homosexual tendencies to seek counsel from their Rabbis. Equally, we urge all Rabbis to show compassion to all those who approach them.”
Interestingly, the RCA is not enthusiastic about “curing” homosexual tendencies, an effort that has come to be known in Evangelical circles as “pray away the gay.” The RCA statement reads:
“On the subject of reparative therapy, it is our view that, as Rabbis, we can neither endorse nor reject any therapy or method that is intended to assist those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. We insist, however, that therapy of any type be performed only by licensed, trained practitioners. In addition, we maintain that no individual should be coerced to participate in a therapeutic course with which he or she is acutely uncomfortable.”
The three non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist, have largely accepted same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay rabbis.
In 1993, the Reconstructionist Commission on Homosexuality published a report titled, “Homosexuality and Judaism,” accepting same-sex couples. “As we celebrate the love between heterosexual couples, so too we celebrate the love between gay or lesbian Jews,” the report said.
In 1996, the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis issued its resolution supporting “the right of gay and lesbian couples to share fully and equally in the rights of civil marriage.”
In 2011, the Conservative movement’s Committee of Jewish Law and Standards has published its “Resolution in Support of Equal Rights and Inclusion for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, And Transgender (GLBT) Persons,” resolving to “support the extension of civil rights and privileges granted to married persons to same sex couples.”
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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