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Gay Marriage, Civil Disobedience

As conservatives continue to their push for a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Rabbis Sharon Kleinbaum and Ayelet Cohen of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in Manhattan, the world’s largest gay and lesbian synagogue, have called on clergy of all religions to sign a statement that affirms their commitment to officiate at same-sex marriages. “With clergy being prosecuted for simply solemnizing marriages for gays and lesbians, we must all be willing to stand up for what is right and just,” reads the announcement on CBST’s web site. So far more than 200 rabbis have signed the pledge.

Rabbi Kleinbaum and others point out that President Bush has injected religion into a civil rights issue, thereby muddying the already murky waters of the debate. “What we’re talking about here in New York City and across the country is civil marriage,” Kleinbaum told the newspaper The Jewish Week. The right for two homosexuals to marry, she said, is a basic civil right.

The split in the Jewish community over this hot-button issue is also being played out in the Jewish press. In February, Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week, wrote in an editorial that in the case of “gay and lesbian lifestyles,” Jewish and American values are incompatible. “There is more to being a serious Jew than embracing the goals of liberal America,” Rosenblatt wrote. That prompted a polite but impassioned rejoinder from Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College. Judaism, wrote Rabbi Ellenson, “is an expansive and pluralistic interpretive tradition that has permitted rabbis throughout the ages to allow changed contexts…to inform them.”

In related news, a growing grassroots movement is advocating that straight couples who want to marry hold out until homosexual couples have the same right to marry as they. In the Winter 1995 issue, LILITH published a new ritual for a wedding ceremony written by Deborah Eisenbach-Budner in which the [heterosexual] couple spills out a few drops of wine from their kiddush cup saying “We will only feel a sense of wholeness when same-sex couples are also able to enjoy the legal, social and religious privileges that are being extended to us on this holy day.”