by Steven Philp
In the national debate concerning equal rights for the LGBT community, the opposition has consistently claimed that they have G-d on their side. Only this week, the anti-equality group National Organization for Marriage held a rally in the Bronx featuring several prominent clergymen and women from local congregations, all of whom advocated for a definition of marriage that excludes same-sex couples. According to a video posted on Good as You, religious leaders like Reverend Ariel Torres Ortega of Radio Visión Cristiana – citing the Bible as witness – stressed that LGBT people are “worthy of death.” The same blog snapped a picture of Rabbi Yehuda Levin, a prominent Orthodox community leader who – according to a media release posted on the Christian Broadcast Network – has blamed the LGBT community for causing the September 11th terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, among other catastrophic events. Although there are strong advocates of LGBT rights within the faith community, such as the Right Reverend Gene Robinson of the New Hampshire Episcopate, many are LGBT-identified themselves. And even so, the perception has been created that allies within congregations are few and far between.
Yet in early May the Empire State Pride Agenda, an LGBT civil rights and advocacy group, issued a press release that gives cause for a little faith. The announcement names 727 clergymen and women from across New York State who have come out in support of marriage equality legislation, currently heading to the state Senate and Assembly. Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly stressed the importance of LGBT rights under his administration; this particular bill is “among his top priorities to achieve before the current legislative sessions ends in June.”
The listed names and their respective congregations represent a wide range of faith traditions, although the vast majority of the signatories are Christian. But among the clergy included in the press release are a number of Jewish leaders. “Jewish tradition prizes family as the basic building block of a community and we know that the stability of the family is enhanced when the family unit enjoys legal protections,” said Rabbi Debora S. Gordon of Congregation Berith Sholom in Troy, New York. “It is in accord with very important Jewish values to recognize and protect the bonds between loving couples, irrespective of the gender of those two adults.”
Not surprisingly, all of the rabbis quoted in the press release – in addition to the vast majority of rabbis listed among the signatories – are members of the Reform movement. In fact, only one rabbi unassociated with a congregation listed his affiliation with the Conservative movement; all others were labeled as Reform or Reconstructionist. “The Reform Jewish Movement has long held that all loving, committed couples deserve the opportunity to celebrate their relationships and have them recognized in the eyes of the law,” explained Honey Heller and Donald C. Cutler to the Empire State Pride Agenda, co-chairs of the Reform Jewish Voice of New York State. “Too often we see opponents of marriage equality using faith as their shield. However we believe that faith demands of us that we treat all couples equally.”
What is striking about these statements is that each of the clergymen and women attributes their attitude toward LGBT equality to their faith. The Jewish leaders who listed their names among the signatories did not do so because they felt it was the politically expedient thing to do, but rather because they were motivated by their engagement with the Jewish community. “As a rabbi, I am honored when families invite me to share in their lives, in the daily routine as well as times that are very special,” explained Rabbi Dennis S. Ross, Director of the Concerned Clergy for Choice. “My pastoral experience demonstrates the value and sanctity of marriage, and the importance of extending the protections and responsibilities of legal marriage to same gender couples.
As we wait for the marriage equality bill to weather the State Assembly and Senate, it is important to identify allies in our respective communities. For many Jews, this includes our individual temples, shuls, and synagogues. And whether or not this particular legislation is successful, at least we know one thing: according to 727 clergymen and women, G-d is on our side.