The whole “same-sex marriage” thing has been on my mind a lot since the election, mostly because that’s where we lost. The succor of those magic words, “President-elect Obama,” has been a balm for me, but, to mangle a metaphor or two, the bloom is about to be off the rose and people still can’t get married. So. Let’s discuss.
For starters, in case you were overwhelmed by aforementioned magic words, allow me to remind you that just under two weeks ago, California, Florida and Arizona voted to make same-sex marriage illegal. Arkansas voted to make sure that no one not legally married—and that means y’all, too, straight single folks—can adopt or foster a child. That brings the number of states with a constitutional ban up to twenty-nine. (Not to mention those that have bans written into law but not the state constitution.) There are two states that will marry The Gays, eight states and a district that will guarantee some sort of vague, partnership-type legal relationship that may look like marriage and smell like marriage, but is definitely not marriage, and one clearly befuddled state, squeaking out legal gymnastics a Talmudist would be proud of, which will not permit gay marriage to happen instate, but will recognize it formally when performed in a state where it is permitted*. Basically, we’re not feeling the love.
So, why should Jewish feminists care, specifically? How many levels of outrage can this hit for us?
Well, first of all, there are some out there who’d say that the right to marry the person you love is a universal right, something every human should be allowed. But let’s leave them aside for a moment, because that kind of argument just shuts down debate. Historically, some of the early rifts between the secular feminists and gay folks (lesbians, mostly)—“Lavender Menace,” anyone?—didn’t exist between the Jewish feminist and Jewish queer movements**. We have a longstanding closeness and a history mutual aid and support—not to mention a vast pool of people with dual identification—so it’s time to step up.
Furthermore, this is an issue of the separation of church and state if ever I have seen one. Forget the ten commandments in public parks and school prayer; ask anyone who says that they think gays shouldn’t be allowed to get married—including that strange breed who insist that we should be given every legal right that accompanies marriage without the marriage itself—ask them to provide a definition of marriage unrelated to religion. Listen, if there are churches out there—or synagogues, say—that want to refuse to do gay marriage, I’m okay with that. I might find it painful, but it’s legitimate in the eyes of the law. But the nation doesn’t get to work that way. And Jews, especially, ever attuned to the ruling authorities’ views on state/religion, should be concerned and opposed to this sort of blurring.
Lastly, given that we’re a people with a reputation for economic acuity, we should all recognize that gay marriage will be good for the economy. And right now, just about anything that merits that praise should be strongly embraced.
The World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews points out that we’re not going to have a unified Jewish front on this any time soon. (Nu? Remember that old joke about two Jews and three opinions?) But I had to put this out there—even at the risk of raving at the choir—in case any of this could possibly change someone’s mind. Seriously—we are not the enemy, and we need every vocal ally we can get.
People have been taking to the streets, which is heartening***. Jews were an important part of the last civil rights movement, and I hope we stay just as involved in the next one.
*I refer, of course, to my ancestral homeland, the big NY. The only analogous legal comparison I can make, actually, is to the recognition of non-Orthodox marriages in Israel. Coincidence?
**Lilith (ahem), particularly, has embodied that historical non-divide. If you’re looking for more academic sources, read Pamela Nadell’s chapter in Women Remaking American Judaism for details.
***Although wouldn’t it be so much better if we could all focus our energies on making sure everyone has food and a home and affordable healthcare?