US Jews split on gov't rejection of anti-gay marriage act

Reform movement welcomes move, Agudath takes "strong exception"; Glenn Beck compares reform Judaism to radical Islam, admits ignorance.

Gay marriage protest 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Gay marriage protest 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON ­ - Reform and Orthodox Jews staked out opposing sides of the gay marriage debate in America on Thursday after the Obama administration decided Wednesday that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.
Under the act, the federal government is barred from recognizing same-sex marriage. As a result of the determination by US Attorney-General Eric Holder, which comes as the act is being challenged in multiple states, the US will no longer defend the act in court. Members of Congress could still do so, and the act remains in effect for the time being, but the switch is a major blow to the legislation and the case against gay marriage in America.
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Soon after the decision was made public, the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center issued a statement calling the move "as welcome as it is overdue." "We know that the stamp of the divine is present in each and every human being. Loving, committed couples ­ gay no less than straight ­ deserve the opportunity to celebrate their relationships and have them recognized in the eyes of the law," said Mark Pelavin, the RAC's associate director. "Now is the time for Congress to repeal the discriminatory law once and for all." Though the American Jewish community is generally broadly supportive of gay rights and the administration's new policy was mostly positively received, not everyone was pleased by the stance.
The Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, for one, released a statement taking "strong exception" to the administration's reversal on the 15-year-old act, which it had defended in court until this week.
Agudath charged that Holder, in criticizing the "moral disapproval" of gay behavior, which he cited as a rationale for no longer enforcing the act, among other statements, used rhetoric that "demonstrates the kind of anti-religious hostility disallowed by the First Amendment. Religious values, ethical imperatives, historical tradition are all swept away ­ no, disparaged ­ by this destructive characterization." The group noted that it had taken an active role in crafting the act and "has been among the groups in the forefront of efforts to maintain the traditional definition of marriage in law and society." Earlier this week, the RAC also came out strongly against Glenn Beck for criticizing Reform Judaism as "almost like radical Islam" on his Fox News show.
"Reform rabbis are generally political in nature. It's almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way... radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics," he said. "When you look at Reform Judaism, it is more about politics." In addition to the umbrage the Reform Movement took at the comments, the Anti-Defamation League joined in criticizing the talk show host.
"Glenn Beck's comparison of Reform Judaism to radical Islam demonstrates his bigoted ignorance," ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said. "Despite his feeble attempt to suggest that he was not equating Reform Judaism with Islamic extremist terrorism, the simple fact that he would mention them in the same breath is highly offensive and outrageous." Beck himself apologized on air Thursday, agreeing with Foxman's assessment.
"I was making a point about political activists, and I started to talk about the difference in rabbis. Somebody has called me ignorant for what I said on Tuesday, and I think that's a pretty good description," he said.
"I made one of the worst analogies of all time, and I knew it when I said it, and I just kept going," Beck continued. "Here I am talking about Judaism, and I start comparing Islamic extremism, and it was just, it was a nightmare."