Several dozen Jewish newspapers from various American cities come to our offices every week. When time infrequently allows, I’ll skim through some of them. One paper that I like to read is called j — the Jewish news weekly of Northern California. And I was drawn recently to a full-page ad in their Nov. 7 edition.
The headline of the ad read: “The Federation will always speak out against prejudice and discrimination.” And the body copy read, in part: “We had hoped after this election to celebrate like Miriam and the Israelites, to sing Mi Chamocha and dance on our journey to freedom. With the passage of Proposition 8, we realize we still have much to overcome. There is not only this sea ahead of us, but many years in the desert yet to cross.”
The ad continued, “We are dismayed that the freedom to marry the one you love has been taken from some. We invite the entire Jewish community to continue supporting civil rights and the end of discrimination.”
The logos, endorsers, at the bottom of the ad include the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Division of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties; the JCRC of the San Francisco Bay area, the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, etc.
The Jewish community locally and nationally is mainly celebrating the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States; but many Jews, along with millions of non-Jews, are disappointed that a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage passed in California. The passage of Proposition 8, as the ballot measure is known, overturns a state Supreme Court decision in May that sanctioned same-sex marriages. Apparently, the 18,000 same-sex couples who were married before Prop 8’s passage will not be affected by the constitutional amendment.
And anti-Prop 8 partisans in California are especially miffed that the Mormons, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), contributed about $40 million in support of the ballot initiative.
Christianity Today, a magazine catering to evangelical Christians, noted that although more than a third of evangelicals had misgivings about voting for a Mormon candidate for president — Mitt Romney — they apparently are all onboard with the Mormon campaign to ban gay marriage.
“More than 4,000 people have signed an online petition thanking the LDS Church for its Proposition 8 efforts,” reported Christianity Today. “Those who signed the letter include Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The signatories mentioned are luminaries of the Christian hard-right. The Southern Baptist Convention is probably the largest church group in America committed to evangelizing Jews, trying to get Jews to convert to Christianity.
Of course, there is no unanimity across the Jewish streams regarding gay rights. Within the past two years, the Conservative movement joined the Reconstructionist and Reform movement in allowing the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors. Orthodox Judaism subscribes strictly to the prohibition against male same-sex relations: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with woman; it is an abhorrence” (Leviticus 18:22).
Rabbi Steven Greenberg, a gay Orthodox rabbi and the author of Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition (University of Wisconsin Press), notes that a second reference in Leviticus (20:13) specifies that the punishment for a man who “lies with a male the lyings of woman” is death — “they shall be put to death — their bloodguilt is upon them.”
Of course, Leviticus also prohibits shaving your beard — and bans hunchbacks, dwarves and anyone with a “crushed testes” from bringing food offerings to the ancient Temple.
Perhaps, the language in Leviticus proscribing male same-sex relations is open to interpretation in the modern age. There is now the widespread understanding that a homosexual orientation is not a lifestyle choice, but is something that is hardwired in a person’s makeup. This begs the question: Why would God make a person gay and then prohibit him from loving someone of his own gender?
The ad from the San Francisco area federations and other Jewish groups, following the passage of Prop 8, concludes with the following message: “We recognize the variety and complexity of views that many hold on this issue, and will continue to work building bridges together. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Jewish community who came together in favor of marriage equality.”
The American Jewish World likewise would like to engage its readers in this discussion of same-sex marriage, which, after suffrage for women and the Civil Rights movement, remains the last realm of state-sanctioned and religiously sanctified bigotry.
— Mordecai Specktor