All People Deserve Respect


— by David Street

Yesterday, President Barack Obama joined with the sweeping majority of American Jews in supporting marriage equality for all Americans. Leading Jewish organizations including the NJDC lauded the President’s show of support.

“To put it plainly, the vast majority of American Jews are behind the President in support of marriage equality,” commented NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris. “In recent decades, many of our community’s mainstream institutions have worked to welcome and include gays and lesbians-to the point where it is now a widely accepted norm, with certain Jewish clergy routinely performing same-sex marriages. But perhaps most notably, the recent poll released by the Public Religion Research institute found that at least 81% of American Jews support marriage equality — showing that grassroots American Jewry, our communal institutions, and now the President are united on this important civil rights issue.”

A roundup of their statements appears below.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

We enthusiastically welcome President Obama’s endorsement today of marriage equality for all couples. History will regard his affirmation of this core right for the LGBT community as a key moment in the advance of civil rights in America. … Civil marriage has historically connoted social acceptance and the recognition of not just a legal relationship between two individuals, but as the Supreme Court has recognized, is ‘the most important relation in life’ (Maynard v. Hill); it is ‘a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred’ (Griswold v. Connecticut). These rights are due no less to same sex couples than heterosexual ones, as the President’s comments today acknowledge….

The support of the President on this issue is particularly meaningful to us as Jews. Our holy texts teach us that all people are created b’tselem Elohim (in the Divine image) (Gen. 1:27), and as such are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. We are inspired by our faith and history to stand up for the rights of LGBT Americans, including civil marriage, for we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who are still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, and discriminated against because of who they are.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

We are gratified to know that President Obama has said publicly what so many of us have known for some time — that civil marriage is a basic civil right. It should not be denied to anyone.  We stand firm in our belief that civil marriage, which is not bound by halacha [Jewish law] but conveys many civil rights and privileges, should be open to all. That comes from our belief that human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim — in God’s image — and therefore have an inherent dignity.

Keshet, which works to “ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews are fully included in all parts of the Jewish community” sent the tweet on the right.

More reactions after the jump.
Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization of America, said:

Hadassah commends President Obama for taking an important step today in showing his commitment to and respect for the LGBT community. Hadassah has long supported LGBT rights, and we firmly believe that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans are treated equally and have equal access to the same rights. Hadassah is committed to the preservation of rights for all people and vigorously condemns discrimination of any kind. As Zionists, Hadassah members understand the dangers of bigotry.

National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said:

NCJW hails President Obama’s decision to express his personal support for same-sex marriage. NCJW has been a staunch supporter of marriage equality and we happily welcome the president to this fight for fundamental human rights at this important time. While setbacks such as the lamentable vote yesterday in North   Carolina are unfortunate, we firmly believe that supporters of marriage equality are on the right side of history. NCJW is proud to work with the President of the United States to ensure that gays and lesbians are protected equally under the law and are treated with the dignity they deserve.

The National Jewish Democratic Council‘s Chair Marc R. Stanley said:

On behalf of NJDC’s board, staff, and membership, I am pleased that the President has made a decisive statement in support of marriage equality. From working to end the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy to ending the Federal Government’s defense of the unjust Defense of Marriage Act, this President has demonstrated an unmatched record of progress in favor of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. President Obama has admirably continued to demonstrate the values of tikkun olam in his work to make America a better place for all Americans. I am truly proud of President Obama and know that so many others in the Jewish community share my feelings.

Bend the Arc

: A Partnership for Justice’s Alan van Capelle said:

Tonight when I go home and look at my six month old son it will be the first time I will be able to tell him that our president believes we are a family. For many Americans, this is a political issue. For millions more, it’s deeply personal.

I applaud President Obama for coming out in support of marriage equality. Today, he showed himself as a leader who is in step with a majority of Americans, and millions of people of faith all over this country who support the right of gay and lesbian people to marry, including 76 percent of American Jews.

Haaretz reported that Israeli LGBT leaders lauded the President’s statement of support:

Irit Rosenblum, founder and CEO of the organization New Family, called the move extremely important. ‘It is a huge step for the enlightened world that the strongest leader publicly recognizes the new family. In doing so, he is obviously posing a challenge to the world’s religious public. I think that this is certainly a very brave act. He is creating the necessary world balance. At a time when it seems the world is becoming increasingly fundamentalist and conservative, this is a liberal point of light.’

According to New Family, there are currently some 18,000 same-sex families living in Israel. Some 4,500 children are being raising in same-sex families, and that number has risen significantly in recent years….

Itay Pinkas, chairman of Tel Aviv’s gay community center, also joined in praising Obama, Pinkas further criticized the situation of the LGBT community in Israel. ‘The only two leaders to bring up the rights of the community in a congressional speech were Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama spoke of the importance of equality during his inauguration speech…he is one of the heads of state most supportive of equality for all citizens.’

Jay Michaelson explained Three Reasons Obama’s Right on Gay Marriage in The Forward:

First is the ‘who.’ Obama’s support of same-sex marriage signals that he’s not going to let a noisy religious minority dictate public policy. This is important for all religious minorities, including the Jewish one, because that same group of angry fundamentalists wants to Christianize America, support the radical settler-fringe in Israel against Israel’s own best interests (as reflected by the mainstream of Israeli public opinion), and erode the separation of church and state. … If American Jews care about maintaining our religious freedom, we must not allow sectarian religious values to dictate public policy. Period.

Second is the ‘what.’ Obama’s statement brings him in line not just with 55% of the American public, as revealed in a recent Gallup poll, but with the overwhelming majority of non-fundamentalist religious people as well….

Most American Jews …  know that the two obscure and unclear verses in Leviticus may be interpreted in any number of ways. And we know that the core values of our religious and social traditions are upheld, not undermined, by interpreting them narrowly, such that they apply to virtually no LGBT people today.

Which brings me to my third point, which is the religious nature of Obama’s statement itself. What the President said today means little as a statement of public policy since it has little impact ‘on the ground.’ It means more as an expression of personal conviction and conscience. What he said was that, over time, he has seen the truth of same-sex couples: that they are as capable of commitment, love, and sanctity of opposite-sex ones; and that it is an injustice to deny the benefits of marriage to gay people. Those are religious values, expressed in a personal way. It demonstrates the growth of individual conscience: he used to feel one way, but over time, in a careful and long process of discernment, he has now come to feel a different way….

Obama’s statement is thus a model for how all of us ought to evolve on issues of values and society. We grow as human beings by a combination of humility and courage: humility in the face of what we do not know, and courage to take a stand and change our minds. If that’s not a Jewish value, I don’t know what is.

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