Same Sex Marriage is a front-page news item debated in North American media, legislatures and courts. The topic has recently piqued again because of a Debate at the United States Supreme Court to constitutionalize same sex marriage in the United States.
This human-interest issue deeply affects many from across the political spectrum and elicits radical responses on both sides of the isle.
Proponents paint it as a human rights and egalitarianism issue that grants same sex couples the same rights that are enjoyed by heterosexual couples. This is a brilliant masterstroke on the part of proponents because painting opposition to the bill as discriminatory places its opponents in a very delicate position.
Opponents invoke the sanctity of Marriage. Same sex marriage is painted as a slippery slope that will eventually erode the traditional structure of marriage between a man and a woman. Biblical injunctions such as “Man shall therefore leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife,” and “Thou shall not lie with a man as one would with a woman,” are often invoked. (1)
While no one likes to be seen as dismissive of the bible proponents find such concerns easily surmountable. In western society, class discrimination is viewed as a greater evil than dismissal or even opposition to biblical imperatives.
It comes as no surprise that most faith-based groups are opposed to same sex marriage. This is especially true of many Jewish faith representatives. After all, Jews are the original trailblazers of biblical values and ought to be its continued torchbearers.
The Sin not the Sinner
While the Jewish faith strictly opposes legalization of same sex marriage, it also enjoins us to carefully examine our conscience to ensure that our opposition is based on religious grounds, not social mores or, even worse, homophobia.
In the Torah G-d clearly prohibited cohabitation between members of the same sex. In Biblical parlance such activity is deemed abominable and sinful. At the same time Torah also prohibits discrimination against sinners. Homosexual activity is restricted, not the homosexual person. The act is an abomination, not the actor. The sin is forbidden, not the sinner. (2)
The Talmud relates a remarkable discussion that took place between the great sage Rabbi Meyer and his learned wife, Bruriah. She overheard her husband praying for the downfall of a particularly vexing neighbor and advised him to pray for “an end to the vexing rather than the downfall of the vexer.” Citing the Biblical verse, “All sin shall cease,” she argued, “ The sins must cease, not the sinners.” (3) Rabbi Meir accepted her wise advice and prayed accordingly. Sure enough, the neighbor soon stopped his vexing ways. (4)
This story underscores the Torah's approach to all sin. The act must never be condoned but the actors must also never be dismissed. We must work to educate rather than to denigrate.
This is especially true of homosexuals who are driven by impulses that they neither chose nor desire. These individuals must be treated with empathy even as we make certain that our empathy is not misconstrued as approval of the act itself. (5)
A Litmus Test
In my opinion a simple litmus test can determine whether our opposition to same sex marriage is motivated by religious imperative or internal bias.
Homosexuality is not the only biblical prohibition. The Torah prohibits coveting, grudge bearing, gossip and slander. There are literally hundreds of prohibitions in the Torah. (6)
To pass the litmus test one must treat same sex couples in the same manner as one would treat transgressors of any other commandment. If the latter are welcome in our synagogues and homes than so should the former. If our rejection of homosexual activity is greater than our opposition to other sins then our motivation is not a righteous one. (7)
Why it's Wrong
If, as proponents claim, the same sex marriage case is merely an attempt to grant equal rights to all married couples, why do I oppose it? Am I against offering tax benefits to same sex couples? Am I against enabling same sex couples to make medical decisions for their loved ones? Am I against the principles of human rights?
Actually I am not against them at all. I have no religious quarrel with amending the tax code. I do, however, have a quarrel with the same sex marriage case because I don't believe that it is about the tax code or legal equality.
This is not an about discrimination, it is about homosexuality. I believe that proponents of same sex marriage are driven by a desire to condone homosexual activity between members of the same gender.
A simple litmus test will quickly determine the truth. Would proponents agree to withdraw the case if same sex couples were offered all the legal rights that are currently enjoyed by heterosexual couples? If the answer is no then this case is motivated by a desire to normalize gay marriage, not to amend the tax bill. To be sure, such amendments are a welcome side benefit but they are not the primary objective. (8)
The drive to legitimize marriage between members of the same gender is an effort to condone the homosexual act itself. As a believing Jew, I cannot in good conscience support the bill because I cannot in good conscience condone homosexual activity. (9)
1. Genesis 2, 24 and Leviticus 18, 22
2. To be sure, Torah advocates, and indeed obligates, the punishment of sinners. But punishment is not meted out to those who were raised in a permissive environment and do not appreciate the severity of biblical commandments. On the contrary in those situations it is incumbent upon us to educate rather than to discriminate.
3. Psalm 104, verse 35.
4. Bab. Talmud Brachos, 10a.
5. It is important to distinguish between the homosexual act and homosexual impulses. The former is biblically forbidden and an abomination, the latter is not forbidden at all.
6. It is true that these acts are only forbidden to Jews while homosexuality is biblically forbidden to all mankind but the argument remains cogent despite this distinction.
7. But rabbi, you might argue, the bible refers to homosexuality as an abomination, thus deeming it a greater sin than the others. Even if, for the sake of argument, I would agree that the term abomination somehow increases the level of offense I would point out that homosexuality is not the only abominable sin in the Bible. (Leviticus 18, 26) If one treats a homosexual in the same manner that one treats all other abominable sinners than one has indeed passed the litmus test.
8. The Massachusetts legislature has in the past considered a compromise that supported same sex unions but did not condone same sex marriage. The same suggestion was rejected in the Canadian Parliament.
9. It may be argued that my understanding of the case is mistaken and that it truly is an attempt to offer full legal rights to same sex couples. I would still be compelled to oppose the bill because legalizing same sex marriage would de-facto legalize and thus condone the homosexual act. (See footnote #7)