DOMA, Proposition 8 Decisions and What Makes Our Nation Great

— by Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 were met with celebration by many who have supported the right of people of the same sex to marry. Others have felt that such rights should not be afforded because of earnestly held religious beliefs. There are differing opinions as to how Jews should respond to this issue, although there is consensus that Judaism teaches respect for others and that we abhor discrimination against individuals.

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We live in a democratic society, in which we are all free to express our opinions about social issues and to advocate vigorously for those opinions. That is part of what makes our nation great. We have a system of laws that protects our rights to speech, religion — and to petition our government to redress grievances as the plaintiffs in the marriage cases did today. No one group and no religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic. In the end, our democratic process determines matters such as this, and that process has spoken. Many in our community are celebrating this decision. Others do not join in that celebration. Together, we must continue in honest dialogue, learning from one another, and striving for what is best for our community and our nation.

It’s Time for Pennsylvania to Pass Marriage Equality Legislation


An LGBT flag in Philadelphia

— by State Senator Daylin Leach

Yesterday, the Supreme Court spoke on the issue of marriage equality. And the sound you heard is the arc of history bending toward justice. The court did two things:

  • They struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which means that gay and lesbian couples who are legally married in any state, are now fully and completely married in the eyes of the federal government — they will now receive all rights and benefits of marriage — and the obscene discrimination that they faced in federal law prior to today is over.
  • The court also dismissed the appeal of a lower court’s decision striking down Proposition 8 in California. This means that the lower court’s ruling stands, and that gay and lesbian couples in California are now legally free to marry the person they love, and 38 million Californians now live under equality.

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These two decisions bring our nation into line with our historic values. Discrimination and bigotry are simply not in America’s DNA. The Court’s decision in the DOMA case was particularly poignant and insightful, saying that laws that treat gay and straight people differently have “no legitimate purpose.”

This language, and these decisions make it clear that legal discrimination against gay people is on its way to the ash-heap of history. The legislature and governor of Pennsylvania now have a crucial decision to make. Do we now embrace equality and, as Hubert Humphrey said, “walk into the bright sunshine of human rights?” Or do we join states like Mississippi and Alabama as dead-enders, fighting a sad and futile battle for prejudice and fear?

I know where I stand. And the polls show where the people of Pennsylvania stand. It’s time for our government to do right by all of the people of our great Commonwealth, and pass marriage equality and anti-discrimination legislation this year.

Reform Movement Welcomes Court Striking Down Prop. 8

— Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Jonathan Stein, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

We commend the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. While the decision is narrow, it is nonetheless an important step forward in the achievement of marriage equality. As the purveyor of civil marriage, government should embrace an inclusive definition of marriage that establishes equality for all couples, regardless of the sex of the people involved.

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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans, for we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who can still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, including the opportunity to marry, because of their identity.

We welcome today’s ruling and move forward with renewed resolve as we work toward the day when all Americans will be able to marry the person that they love.