On same sex marriage, NY Jewish groups are mixed

Following the decision by the New York State government to legalize gay marriage, Jewish groups take a range of stances.

June 27, 2011 18:55
3 minute read.

Gay pride flag 311. (photo credit: Yoni Cohen)


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NEW YORK -- Jewish groups spoke out both for and against New York State government's vote last Friday to approve same-sex marriages.

New York is the sixth and largest state in the United States to pass legislation that allows for gay marriage.

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told The New York Times as he received bountiful cheers and applause at Sunday’s gay pride celebrations in Manhattan that he anticipated more states climbing on board with the idea of gay marriage. “I think you’re going to see this message resonate all across the country now. If New York can do it, it’s O.K. for every other place to do it,” Cuomo said.

Orthodox religious organizations expressed varying degrees of chagrin and dismay that the legislation was approved.

Orthodox Jewish groups including Agudath Israel, the Central Rabbinical Congress of the U.S.A. and Canada, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, the Rabbinical Council of America, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America had expressed Orthodox support of traditional marriage between men and women.

 Friday’s decision was denounced in an official statement by Agudath Israel of America as a “capitulation to a lamentable contemporary Zeitgeist.”

New York’s Marriage Equality Act legislation, which passed the New York State Senate and the Assembly, includes exemptions for religious organizations: nonprofits, businesses and individuals are not mandated to acknowledge same-sex marriages. 

These exemptions were hard-fought and won by efforts of three state senators, one of whom was Republican Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie. The exemptions protect religious organizations and affiliated groups from lawsuits if they refuse to provide buildings or services for same-sex marriage ceremonies. Additionally, by way of example, a synagogue refusing to accommodate same-sex weddings cannot be penalized by loss of state aid for its social service programs.

New Hampshire’s state legislation regarding gay marriage is similarly structured, and the exemptions met with approval from the New York Civil Liberties Union. Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director, told The New York Times that the exemptions provide that the new legislation “respects the right of clergy, churches and religious organizations to decide for themselves which marriages they will or will not solemnize or celebrate in keeping with our country’s principles of religious freedom.”

Saland, a Conservative Jew, had been targeted heavily by Agudath Israel lobbyists to vote against the Marriage Equality Act. Saland is said to be directly related to former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shmuel Salant. According to Tablet Magazine, “some enthusiastic supporters in Jerusalem are rumored to have gone so far as to have prayed at Salant’s grave in hopes of his intercession in the matter.”

 The Orthodox Union, calling the legislation’s enactment a “mistake” overall, said it was “grateful” for the exemptions.

"Consistent with our tradition and Jewish religious principles, we oppose the redefinition of marriage and the state sanction of same-sex marriages," the OU told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

"Just as we, in a democratic, pluralistic society do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others, same-sex marriage, now the law in New York, must not infringe on anyone’s religious liberties," the OU said. "Sadly, in too many states, those acting on their religious beliefs have seen government benefits withheld, government funds, contracts and services denied and privileges such as tax exemptions revoked. New York’s law ensures that will not happen here and employers, social service providers and houses of worship are free to uphold their faith.”

The Anti-Defamation League released a statement saying that  the Marriage Equality Act is "a significant step forward in the pursuit of individual liberty and freedom from discrimination for New Yorkers."

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