Jewish Values on LGBT rights and the perspective of the URJ and the CCAR on rights, inclusion, outreach, marriage, and the Boy Scouts of America.
Gay and Lesbian Rights and Jewish Values
The two most often cited Biblical texts concerning homosexuality are both found in the book of Leviticus, where they are in the context of a larger section directing sexual behavior. First, it is written: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.” (Leviticus 18:22) The second citation is from Leviticus 20:13, where we read that “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-their blood guilt is upon them.”
However, we are also guided by the very basic belief that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim (in the Divine image), as it says in Genesis 1:27, “And God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them.” Rabbi David Saperstein said in Congressional testimony in support of ENDA that “regardless of context, discrimination against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear, or hatred is inconsistent with this fundamental belief. We oppose discrimination against all individuals, including gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every one of us.”
Each of us, created in God’s image, has a unique talent, with which we can contribute to the high moral purpose of tikkun olam, the repair of our world. Excluding anyone from our community lessens our chance of achieving this goal of a more perfect world.
Position of the Reform Jewish Movement
The Reform Movement has been an advocate of gay and lesbian rights since 1965, when the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) passed a resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. In 1977, the URJ and the CCAR passed their first resolutions dealing with this issue, calling for human rights for homosexuals. Since then, the URJ, CCAR, WRJ, CSA, and NFTY have passed resolutions dealing with issues specific to Reform Judaism, such as inclusion of gays and lesbians in the rabbinate and cantorate, as well as national issues, such as support for civil marriage, elimination of discrimination within the Armed Forces and the Boy Scouts, and support for explicit workplace non-discrimination and civil rights legislation. Gay, lesbian and bisexual outreach and inclusion has been of great importance to the Reform Movement in recent years. The URJ Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Inclusion, headed by the late Rabbi Julie Spitzer, created a manual called Kulanu (All of Us): A Program for Congregations Implementing Inclusion. This text is aimed at helping congregations include gay and lesbian members and families and deal with gay and lesbian issues. The URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns also deals with gay and lesbian issues.
In addition, the Reform Jewish movement is committed to working to secure civil rights for gay men and lesbians, including the right to civil marriage. Both the URJ and the CCAR have adopted resolutions in support of gay and lesbian partnerships. In its 1993 resolution, the URJ resolved, among other things, to call upon congregations to extend the same benefits that are afforded to heterosexual spouses of staff members to homosexual partners of staff members. The CCAR, in its 1996 resolution on gay and lesbian partnerships, resolved to “oppose governmental efforts to ban gay and lesbian marriage.” The most recent major Reform movement on the issue was the March 2000 passage of the CCAR resolution on “Same Gender Officiation,” followed by the Commission on Social Action’s January memorandum regarding the Boy Scouts of America.
Central Conference of American Rabbis and Same-Gender Officiation
The Reform Movement has long been a proponent of civil unions on the secular, purely legal, level. However, in March 2000, the Central Conference of American Rabbis made history by becoming the first major group of North American clergy, as an organization, to give its support to those in its ranks choosing to perform same-gender ceremonies. The resolution, ‘Resolution on Same Gender Officiation,’ supports the decision of individual rabbis to officiate, or not officiate, at same-gender ceremonies.
The resolution calls for the Reform rabbinate to develop sample ceremonies, or liturgy, for those rabbis who choose to officiate at same-gender ceremonies. While it leaves the choice of officiation up to the individual rabbis, the resolution states that a relationship between two people of the same gender can serve as the foundation of stable Jewish families and is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual. The resolution does not suggest that these ceremonies are “marriages”; each individual rabbi is given the power to decide, within the context of faith, what each ceremony represents.
Reform Movement Position on the Boy Scouts of America
The Reform Movement and the Boy Scouts of America have long-standing ties. Many leaders in the Reform Movement have been and continue to be leaders in the Boy Scouts, and congregations across the country sponsor Boy and Cub Scout troops.
However, the discriminatory Boy Scout policy clearly goes against Reform Jewish policy and beliefs on homosexuality. The Reform Movement has strong positions in support of human rights, including the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We believe that all people have basic rights, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The North American Federation of Temple Youth, the North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Commission on Social Action all have policy regarding the discriminatory practices of the BSA. On January 5, 2001, after much discussion, the Commission on Social Action mailed out a new memo to congregations. This memo, which received press attention and garnered strong responses, recommended that congregations sponsoring/housing a troop/pack withdraw sponsorship and/or stop housing that troop/pack. In addition, parents with children in non-Reform affiliated troops/packs were encouraged to withdraw their children from these troops. However, in understanding the long-standing relationship between Jews and the Boy Scouts, as well as the many positive aspects of Scouting, the memo does not require this decision to be made. Each congregation and parent has autonomy in choosing how to define their relationship with the Boy Scouts of America.
Resolution on Rights of Homosexuals (1977)
Resolution On Convening in States Denying Legal Protection of Civil Rights for Gays and Lesbians (1993)
Resolution on Gay and Lesbian Marriage (1996)
Resolution in Support of Marriage Ruling; Opposes Efforts to Undermine Equality for Same-Sex Couples (2004)
Resolution on Support for Inclusion of Lesbian and Gay Jews (1987)
Resolution on Gay and Lesbian Jews (1989)
Resolution on Recognition for Lesbian and Gay Partnerships (1993)
Resolution Promoting Equal Employment and Leadership Opportunities for Lesbians and Gays in the Reform Movement (1995)
Resolution on Civil Marriage for Gay and Lesbian Jewish Couples (1997)
Resolution on Gay and Lesbian Rights (1997)
Resolution on Transgender and Bisexual Rights (2003)