Recently Illinois became the sixteenth state to ratify same-sex marriage. That leaves about 2/3 of the states still to approve this concept. Anyone who watches televised newscasts realizes that the issue of civil unions and same-sex marriage is still very controversial.
The institution of marriage can be seen to have two defining forces: First, the voice of religion defines marriage as a moral act and as such defines the proper and improper actions in terms of specific doctrine
Second. the civil or legal factor which is defined by the government under which the marriage takes place. The laws establish who can get married (sex, age, race, social standing, etc.); the rights of married persons, property ownership, and the rights of offspring.
In practice, the religious views are a major factor in setting public opinion. This public opinion is key in setting the civil law. As a result, changes in actual law must wait for the views of the major religious bodies to change.
The Jewish view of marriage could possibly be seen as going back to Adam and Eve. The Torah tells us that God took a rib from Adam and fashioned a woman, Eve. God spoke, “ ‘This bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Let this one be called woman, for this one is taken from man.’ So it is that a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:22-23)
How does Judaism view the issue of gender in marriage? Like so many other issues there is no single answer. Following is a brief review of how the major movements within Judaism define this issue.
All people are created b’selem Elohim (in the image of God) and as such are to be treated with equal dignity and respect. This, as seen by the Reform Movement, includes the right to marry someone an individual loves. It is clear that heterosexual, gay, bisexual, and lesbian couples are entitled to find happiness and strength in the holiness of their relationships. This holiness should be reflected in their ties to God and their Jewish faith and, as such, should be accepted by the ideals of their Jewish faith.
The Reform movement has been an advocate for gay and lesbian rights since 1965 when the Women of the Reform Judaism (WRJ) passed a resolution for decriminalization of homosexuality. A year later, the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) passed a resolution on gay and lesbian partnerships. It supported the rights of gay and lesbian couples to share fully and equally in the rights of civil marriage and voiced opposition to government efforts to ban same-sex marriages.
In 2000 a resolution was adopted supporting “Same Gender Officiation” by rabbis. It gave Reform rabbis the right to officiate or not officiate same-gender ceremonies. The resolution stated that a relationship between two people of the same gender can serve as the foundation of a stable Jewish family and is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual. The resolution, however, did not suggest that these ceremonies were “marriages.” It gave each individual rabbi the power to decide, within the context of faith, what each ceremony represented.
In 2006 the Conservative Movement’s Commission on Jewish Law and Standards issued a paper favoring the establishment of committed and loving relations for gay and lesbian Jews. The paper acknowledges that same-sex relationships are banned by classical rabbinic law as cited in the following from Torah:
- Leviticus 18:22: – Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman.
- Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death – and retain the bloodguilt.”
The paper continues, “For observant gay or lesbian Jews who would otherwise be condemned to a life of celibacy or secrecy, their human dignity requires the suspension of the rabbinic level prohibitions.”
Changes were made in the service for same-sex couples. Chief among these were the elimination of references to hattan v’kallah (bride and groom) which are replaced withre’im ha-ahuvim (loving companions). Also the words k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael (according to Moses and Israel) are replaced with b’enei Elohim v’Adam (in the eyes of God and humankind). The creation of equal partners also eliminates future problems arising out of the male control of property and difficulties arising out of the male needing to complete a get (document in which a groom dissolves a marriage) if the marriage is ended.
The Reconstructionist Movement has been on record as actively supporting gay and lesbian Jews as early as 1984 when the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College began to openly admit gay and lesbian applicants.
In 1993, Reconstructionists, considered a vanguard on this subject, issued an official statement which left the willingness to perform same-sex ceremonies up to the conscience of the individual rabbi. The statement also expressed support to legalize civil marriage for same-sex couples.
In 2004 they passed a resolution supporting full legal equality for same-sex couples and pledged support of same-sex marriages.
Their wedding ceremony eliminates references to “bride” and “groom” and pronounces the couple “life partners.” Both “partners” break the traditional glass in the ceremony to show this equality.
The Reconstructionists see same-sex marriage as a religious value because it provides economic justice; creates a stable, committed relationship; and helps foster support for positive child rearing.
The Orthodox or traditional view of homosexual behavior is clear, unambiguous, and absolute – As stated in the Torah, homosexual behavior between males or females is absolutely forbidden by law.
The position on marriage is equally clear. It recognizes marriage as a fundamental human institution which is only between a man and a woman. It is a two parent family (mother and father) which is vital in shaping the Jewish family and the human race.
However, in view of today’s contemporary world, the Orthodox Movement can show varied degrees of tolerance and acceptance to people who violate the various laws including Shabbat, kosher diet, and sexual practices. But there is a great difference between tolerance and acceptance. Even as acceptance grows and becomes the norm in the rest of the community, it is still their view that the practice of same-sex marriage is wrong.
Actually, there is no final word or answer to the question of “What is the Jewish View on Same-Sex Marriages.” The answer ranges from acceptance of gay and lesbian unions by all branches except the Orthodox. However, the officiating of the unions is at the discretion of the rabbi in the approving branches of Judaism. Some rabbis call the ceremony a marriage and others use a different title such as partnership or union.
The Torah is clear on the prohibition of homosexual activity. The question becomes – which is more important –
- The law of Torah itself …… or
- The dignity of same-sex persons seeking a caring, loving relationship within the Jewish community.
It seems the “Final Word” is not unlike that of the nation as a whole…. Mixed.