Robbie George, the conservative Princeton Professor who opposes same-sex marriage, writes of an under-reported influence in Weiner’s Queens district (NY-9):
In the run up to the election, a group of Orthodox rabbis, most from Brooklyn, but including others, notably Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky and Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen, two nationally prominent Orthodox Jewish authorities, published a letter stating that “it is forbidden to fund, support, or vote for David Weprin.” The reason? As a member of the New York state legislature, Weprin, despite his Orthodox Jewish beliefs, voted to redefine marriage to include same-sex partnerships. This, the rabbonim declared, was chillul Hashem—a desecration, or bringing of shame, on God’s name. The rabbis went on to say that “Weprin’s claim that he is Orthodox makes the chillul Hashem even greater”…The letter from the rabbonim went farther than anything I recall Catholic bishops saying.
People are, and should be, legally allowed to vote their conscience in this country however it is formed. But we need to have a discussion about the morality of voting based on your theocratic desire to impose specifically religious values with no secular justification onto the general polity. This applies not only to the legislators themselves but to those who elect them to be theocratic. We need a much more vigorous discussion of how the individual voter should think about his or her responsibility to uphold the principles of equality, autonomy, freedom of conscience, etc. and spend less time analyzing whether or not candidate x or y’s strategy for pandering to theocratic voters is shrewd and effective enough to get him or her elected.
Of course the problem in America is that you quite often cannot criticize someone’s moral behavior without being accused of trying to deny their rights. But the morality of how you should decide your vote is a different issue than your right to vote according to conscience. It is a debate about what your conscience should tell you. And we need to make the case that your conscience should say that it is wrong to try to impose on the general polity your own values that you cannot defend in rational, religiously-neutral terms.
(via Andrew Sullivan, who takes the possibility that Orthodox sentiment on same-sex marriage swayed the election to mean it may have been less a referendum on Obama than most of the media has portrayed it to be.)
For more of my analysis on the proper and improper relationships between religious beliefs and politics, see the following posts: