Rabbi Goldman takes on a controversial issue by exploring several different perspectives of the problem.

Thinking About Gay Marriage: Some Rabbinical Observations

The function of this article is not to espouse a particular viewpoint on homosexual orientation and sexual relations nor is it to espouse a stance on Gay Marriage. What this article does interest itself in is how the subject tends to be and can be viewed in our public discourse and politics. Like the Talmud, which is often inconclusive as a matter of Halakhic ruling, this article is written in the spirit of intellectual inquiry and cultural criticism. We will explore several different approaches to how Gay Marriage can be viewed and one can consider for oneself which if any of these views are in the best interest of our public discourse and direction.

The simplest approach to identify in relation to Gay Marriage is one that could be called “Logical” and is an approach that is held by both proponents for and against Gay Marriage. I classify this approach as “Logical” as it tends to naturally and instinctively follow from one’s views on homosexuality itself. If one perceives homosexuality as a sexual practice to be morally legitimate and equally valid to heterosexuality as a sexual practice, then for many it logically follows to be in support of Gay Marriage. The reasoning being: why should a moral and valid way of practicing one’s sexual life and developing love relations be proscribed from the normative socio-economic institution of organizing and recognizing such committed relations, namely marriage? Conversely, if one holds homosexual sexual practice to be morally illegitimate and beyond the pale of how one is to practice one’s sexuality and develop one’s love relations, then for many it logically follows that Gay Marriage should not be allowed to become an institution in this country.

The second approach in relation to Gay Marriage is a more complex one and could be called “Neutralized”. This as well is an approach that can be held by both proponents for and against Gay Marriage. For example, a religious Jew or Christian who understands their Bible to prohibit homosexual sex and further understands these religious traditions not to recognize such marriages when and where they occur could nevertheless politically support Gay Marriage. How is this tenable? Such a person could take the view that what constitutes moral sexual behavior and what are valid bonds between humans fall under the domain of religion and as the United States is constructed with an intended Separation between Church/Synagogue/Mosque and State the Federal Government should not dictate what these sexual norms and the sociological institutions that emerge from them should be. To do so would violate, in their minds, limits that the Government should respect in relation to its authority and jurisdiction. In short, one can hold one’s religious belief to be true but one can neutralize such a religious belief in the political sphere and not use the instrumentation of Government and Politics to impose it on another. I classify this approach as “Neutralized” as the individual who holds such an approach essentially has one political principle they respect neutralize another religious principle they hold dear. The latter, left to its own devices would lead to the more “Logical” approach elucidated prior.

Likewise, a person who believes that homosexual sex is morally legitimate and supports the idea of Gay Marriage could take the view that this country, informed as it is by a Judeo-Christian heritage, in the construction of its Constitution and laws never intended to allow men and women to marry persons of the same sex and that the Founding Fathers could not conceive of this as being a restriction of their equality or pursuit of happiness. They would further recognize that there are other laws in this country that can trace their roots or influence to the Judeo-Christian heritage, for example the illegality to commit suicide and practice euthanasia and these laws as well could equally be overturned among others if we seek to neuter this country from any religious moral influence whatsoever affecting its laws. The reasoning goes: If we seek to legalize Gay Marriage and divorce the country from its former moral underpinnings on the issue, what laws will be next? This individual could take the view that while they personally disagree with the religious basis for the current predominant definition and legal status of marriage they nevertheless do not believe that this is what the Founding Fathers were concerned with when they established the Separation between Church and State and nor is it what they conceived of when they were enshrining as core values of this country equality, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Here as well, this approach shows the “Neutralized” quality I refer to, as one principle in this case their understanding of the Constitution and their belief about how it should be interpreted neutralizes what their belief about the moral validity of homosexual sex and marriage would “logically” lead to.

People can also take an approach that this is a “States Rights” issue and put their personal and or religious views aside and take a principled Political/Constitutional stand as to how they see this country is supposed to function when an issue is not clearly and unambiguously addressed in the Constitution. In this case as well this would be another example of a “Neutralized” perspective.

Lastly there is an approach that can be classified as ”Triage”. In this approach the person regardless of their view on homosexual sex and Gay Marriage and regardless of their views on the Constitution and its interpretation see the country as in need of a certain kind of “Change”. In light of this desired change they put aside their views on the above issues and subordinate their decision around Same Sex Marriage to what they deem most critical for the country as a whole. For example, an otherwise Socially Liberal Democrat could feel that this country needs a new economic direction and vote for Romney with the hope that Mr. Romney will bring a different approach to resolving the current economic distress we are facing.  Alternatively, a moderate Republican could feel that the Grand Old Party has taken a very scary direction and would prefer President Obama’s general policies and tone than what the Tea Party, Religious Right and Conservative Republicans are offering. In the “Triage” approach Gay Marriage while an important issue is not viewed as a critical issue and they relegate it to a secondary status in their politics.

In general, people who galvanize around the “Logical” approach tend to construct this issue in terms of “Good vs. Evil” or “Progress vs. Fundamentalism”. They also tend to bring significant energy to the debate with very strong and at times hardened views. Individuals in the other approaches described tend to be less committed one way or the other and are less useful in steering the issue one way or another, as the momentum on this issue is usually being dictated by activists within each camp or political expediency feeding such activism.

It seems that our Presidential candidates are each appealing at present to an element of their base of support and are taking the “Logical” view on this issue- logical that is to those individuals who hold deep convictions one way or the other on Homosexual Sex and Marriage and what naturally follows for them from these views. One of the consequences of the discourse being constructed to those within the “Logical” approach is that there are many people who will stand aside from the debate and leave it to the extremes within each approach to battle till kingdom or utopia comes. I am not convinced that this is what is best for the country or for our public discourse but I am convinced its plenty good for Talk Radio and the news Media who have their cliché images and sound bites with which to bombard us.


About Rabbi Zecharyah Goldman

Rabbi Zecharyah Tzvi Goldman is the founder and rabbinic administrator of the EarthKosher Kosher Certification Agency. He is also the founder and director of the Institute for Halakhic Conversion. He is the author of a broad range of books, essays and articles covering a diverse arena of Torah including: Halakha, Kabbalah, Chassidut and Aggada. A Lifelong student of Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology he currently studies Torah and Chinese Internal Martial Arts and lives with his wife Ora and 3 children in Boulder, Colorado.

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