I am an Orthodox rabbi. In my faith community we do not perform same-sex marriages. We believe that the Torah and subsequent rabbinic tradition rule out the possibility of two people of the same sex coming together in marriage. Yet, we are called upon to be welcoming, to be embracing and to be inclusive of all people. A growing list of Orthodox rabbis and leaders have added their names to a Statement of Principles first published in July of 2010 affirming the inherent dignity of all people who choose to enter the sacred spaces of our faith community.
The Supreme Court decision this past week to make same-sex marriage a Constitutional right has been a challenge for adherents to all conservative faith traditions that put forth a heteronormative definition of marriage enshrined in the Bible and religious tradition. Many conservative faith leaders have called for a time of mourning. They have pledged their willingness to continue “the fight” and to resist in whatever way possible.
These faith leaders, in my opinion, are missing the point.
There is the well-known story about the holy Hasidic rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who came upon a member of the community eating on one of the most serious fast days of the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av. The rabbi asked this man if he knew it was Tisha B’Av. The man answered in the affirmative. He then asked him if he knew it was forbidden to eat on Tisha B’Av. The man answered again in the affirmative. Finally, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak asked him if perhaps he was sick and was required to eat for his health. The man answered that he was perfectly healthy and was just hungry. Upon hearing the man’s honest reflections, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak looked up to the Heavens and declared “Master of the Universe, look how honest your people are!”
In other words, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak found the positive in a situation in which many of his fellow rabbinic leaders would have only seen the negative. As a matter of civil society I believe that removing discriminatory practices against any one sector of society is the right thing to do. A free and open society for all is the only way to guarantee a free and open society for yourself. (I recently wrote about this here and here.)
Furthermore, religious conservatives have much to celebrate with the recent ruling of the Supreme Court. Millions and millions of Americans struggled, organized and advocated for decades to broaden who is entitled to marry. What is marriage if not an act of values, commitment and responsibility? What is marriage if not the deeply conservative act of vowing to remain faithful to the one you have entered into a marital relationship with? Commitment. Responsibility. Monogamy. These are conservative values and the majority of Americans want more people to have access to them.
There is still work to be done to make sure that the religious freedom of conservative faith traditions is upheld. In a fast evolving society mutual freedoms need to be negotiated to ensure maximal freedom for all. No faith community should be required to act against its beliefs. I will not perform same-sex marriages today, tomorrow or any day in the future but on the day of the ruling by the Supreme Court and in the days afterward I have celebrated the popularity of the deeply religiously conservative value of marriage triumphing in America. In a society all too often marked by hedonistic expressions of pure self-gratification and pleasure, it is so very moving to know that so many Americans value the ideals, commitment and dedication of marriage to such a degree that they struggled for decades to attain it.
Let all people from conservative faiths come together and celebrate the triumph of the institution of marriage.