Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Live Free and Unite Civilly

Today New Hampshire becomes the fourth state of the US to offer civil unions, which is newspeak for Gay Marriage. I couldn’t be happier. No, wait, that isn’t true. I could be happier. I could be happier if the other forty-six states offered civil unions as well.

Civil Union is a good thing. I know there are people who say gay marriage is a better thing, but I am not one of them. I don’t want gay and lesbian couples to imitate the heterosexual obsession with marriage. I want the heterosexuals to share in the gay and lesbian community’s hard won civil unions.

The government has no business in the marriage business. The government deals with contracts, and to the extent a marriage is a contractual relationship couples wishing to marry should be required to enter into civil unions. To the extent marriage is something more, that something more belongs to religion.

If we separated the civil from the religious (a scandalous idea, Mister Jefferson!), we could put an end to this skirmish in the culture war. Those people of faith who believe God only sanctions the union of Tabs and Slots (highly technical jargon for males and females) should not have to defend their position, and certainly not have to fear the government forcing them to accept any other configuration. I have no problem with people who feel gay marriage is unholy; I just don’t want them using their religious beliefs to limit secular freedom.

Couples of any configuration who wish to marry should be required to meet the legal standards of their state, and these should have nothing to do with race, color, creed, religion, or sexual preference. Then, if a civilly united couple desires a religious wedding in addition to the civil ceremony required by the state, they should be free to shop around to find a clergy person willing to meet their needs. When I was a congregational rabbi I performed gay and lesbian Commitment Ceremonies, and would be happy to do so today. (No, not literally today, I have other things planned, but you know what I mean.)

The situation with gay marriage in the US parallels the situation of interfaith marriages in Israel. In Israel the Orthodox Establishment (OE) rules the private lives of Jewish Israelis. And they don’t allow Jews to marry Gentiles. Those who wish to marry someone who does not meet the criteria of the OE must marry outside the country. Lots of Israelis fly over to Cyprus, get married, and come home. The state welcomes them as married; the synagogue does not.

I would like to see Israel and the US truly separate the civil and religious.

This year in Concord. Next year in Jerusalem!


Vania said...

My nephew is gay. We have known he was different from the time he started talking. He just graduated from college and has been living with a girl who is his "friend" so I guess she is also his "girl-friend", and has been helping her raise her child since the baby (who is now about 5) was born. He is the only father the child has ever known and ever will. Yet despite his love for his room mate and the child he is raising, his hearts desire would be to find the young man of his dreams and raise a child within that relationship. Living with a woman all these years has not made him straight. It has made him less sexually active since most of his time is spent with his "family".

My sister had a terrible time with Jess's sexual orientation and spent G-d knows how much money on mental health experts (of all types and flavors) and none were able to "fix" him. Of course not, you cannot fix what is not broken.

I too am keeping a close watch on the issue of gay marriage and civil unions. I don't think my nephew would ever be comfortable falling in love and being forbidden to have his life's partner recognized openly as his "spouse/significant other".

Being a gay, Messianic Jewish man has really been difficult for him. But I will say that our Messianic family members have responded to him with a great deal more love and compassion than those who have remained within orthodox Judaism. Not that Messianic believers condone homosexuality, they don't as a rule. But Yeshua's love for man and the mental image He paints of G-d as the Father of compassion, warmth and forgiveness resonates and Jess is able to love and respect G-d and himself as a son of G-d without having to choose between the two.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro said...

My heart goes out to your nephew. I hope he doesn't let anyone define him, and lives his life with integrity on all fronts.

Peter M. Schogol said...

You are in Tennesee and I am in Kentucky, and pigs will fly before we ever see civil unions in these parts. But, when John and I get around to ceremonializing our already 8 year-old marriage, we know we can turn to the Reform synagogue, the UU church, the Nichiren temple, or the Friends Meeting, and find good company and all the blessings we would want. And that is more than okay.