May 9, 2006
It is a privilege to stand here today on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, on behalf of clergy and people of faith across America, and from my own religious conviction as a rabbi, to express our strong opposition to the dangerous and discriminatory Federal Marriage Amendment.
The Reform Jewish Movement, the largest branch of American Judaism, is deeply troubled by the proposed Constitutional Amendment that would ban states from extending the legal protections of civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples. Jewish values and American history compel me to speak out against this egregious proposal to enshrine discrimination against a specific group of citizens and intolerance of specific religious beliefs into our nation's most sacred document.
The struggle for equality is the defining narrative of our nation. From the suffrage movement, to the civil rights movement, to the gay rights movement, minorities in this country have worked tirelessly to achieve equal rights as guaranteed to them by the founding visions of the United States. It is this history, as well as our moral concerns, that compel us to condemn the Federal Marriage Amendment.
America’s brilliant religious tapistry is one of our most cherished creations. We place tremendous value in the diversity of religious traditions. We respect the beliefs of people whose religions are opposed to same-sex marriages. We would never - ever - want any clergy member or church to be forced to sanctify a same-sex religious wedding. But an amendment to the Constitution is not necessary to protect that freedom. No religious institutions will ever be compelled to recognize, sanctify, or condone any marital union.
In fact, this national debate has nothing to do with religious wedding ceremonies. Regardless of what our politicians decide, some religions will continue to sanctify same-sex marriages, and some never will. Civil marriage must be differentiated from religious marriage - because religious marriage is an institution and a religious concept that must remain the domain of religion, but civil marriage is a set of legal protections and benefits that the government grants based on the possession of a civil marriage license. We do not believe that all religions should have to recognize same-sex religious marriage, but we do believe that the government must give equal protection to all its citizens and equal respect to all its religions.
The amendment plainly states: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.” It is not clear that this statement applies only to civil marriage; in fact, some caution that this sweeping definition may also forbid private religious recognition of same-sex marriage. If so interpreted, the Amendment would represent a serious threat to the free exercise of religion. Some religious traditions, including Reform Judaism, recognize the legitimacy of same-sex unions. Many Reform rabbis around the country routinely perform same-sex weddings. Yet some warn that if the FMA is adopted, performing a religious wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple might be unconstitutional and illegal. They argue that the FMA could give the federal government express authority to bar religious groups from sanctioning same-sex marriage – and the authority to punish those that do.
While America’s clergy may hold differing religious views on same-sex marriage, clergy are united in our belief that this amendment would dignify discrimination and threaten religious liberty.
We must work to ensure that such an effort to enshrine homophobia, intolerance, and inequality in our Constitution fails and does so by an overwhelming margin.
We are all God's children. We are all one people. Let us stop issuing decrees of hatred and begin enacting legislation and implementing policies that will foster healthy, loving, caring, and committed relationships. Let us ensure that in this nation, none will ever again be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or religious conviction.