Some of the most beautiful words one will ever hear were written in Hebrew and are recorded by Chazal in the Gemarah (Kidushin 5b): Hare At Mikudeshes Li – ‘Behold you are made holy unto me’. This declaration made by a groom to his bride is the formula that cements the bonds of love between a man and a woman through marriage. The key word in this formula is holy. That is how the Torah views marriage. It is a state of holiness between a man and a woman. There is no other human interpersonal relationship in the Torah that is characterized that way.
It is with this in mind that, I am in basic agreement with Agudah’s recent statement in support of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) - signed into law 15 years ago by then President Clinton.
The purpose of that law is to clearly state that as a nation we affirm that marriage is defined only as it applies to a bond between a man and a woman. The Obama administration has withdrawn support for DOMA because of what they say is a changed ‘legal landscape’. I’m not sure what that means but I do not find those words a compelling argument for change. What I do find is a further erosion of our national sense of what is right and proper in the eyes of God.
I say all this with a sense of pride in Judaism and at the same time a feeling of pathos for homosexuals who feel offended by the fact that they cannot get married to each other. I have written many times in the past that there is absolutely nothing immoral in same sex attractions. A human being can’t help what he is attracted to. Whether that is the result of biology or environment is not an issue. It doesn’t really matter why one has these feelings.
It is also pretty clear to me that same sex attractions can rarely be changed – even if behavior resulting from it occasionally can. This is why I sympathize with homosexuals and it outrages me when there is discrimination in any form against them. It far more important to judge someone by the content of his character than by whom he is attracted to. Judging someone by his sexual proclivities is just plain wrong. That certain sexual acts common to male homosexuals is considered by the Torah to be a capital offense is immaterial. We are today and for the last 2000 years in no position to carry out capital punishment on any Torah violation. At this moment – it is in God’s hands – not ours.
As long as this behavior is not flaunted or legitimized, it’s none of my business. A homosexual Jew must be treated the same way any other Jew is treated. With dignity and respect. To that end I have no problem with any of the legislation protecting their civil rights. And though I am in general not a big fan of hate crime laws – I certainly agree that where they exist they should apply equally to homosexuals as they do to Blacks, Jews, and any other minority who is hurt because of bigotry and hatred.
But when it comes to how we define ourselves as a country, I think it is important to separate religion from politics. Gay marriage is nothing more than a political issue. Marriage is a religious act. It is not just a civil union. It is a religious union. Even though there is such a thing as civil marriage – is it really anything more than a civil union? Is it really anything more than a formal contract between two people granting them certain rights as a couple? Calling it marriage is just a social convention in my view - so as to have a common national definition of a man and woman living together that is sanctioned by the state. It is a civil legitimating of a religious concept.
This is not the case with people of the same sex. Marriage cannot apply to them by definition. Calling it marriage doesn’t make it so. One can call an apple a banana, but it is still not a banana. There is nothing holy in one man asking another to be ‘holy unto him’. What redefining marriage to include gays does however do is create an aura of acceptability and even respectability of the gay lifestyle.
This is different from accepting the gay as an individual. Any homosexual that considers himself Orthodox should in fact oppose the idea of gay marriage too. They have to admit that the Torah could not possibly sanction a marriage between two men. That would be turning the Torah on its head. It would also foster an environment where a religious capital offense will more than likely occur.
Giving dignity and respect to a gay man does not mean we have to approve of a lifestyle that often includes acts that are biblically prohibited. By redefining marriage to include members of the same sex we are in essence saying that gay sex and heterosexual sex are an equally moral act …that there is no moral difference between gay sex and heterosexual sex... that they are equivalent. This is absolutely against the Bible from which much of the American ethos is taken. We are a Judeo-Christian society. And though many of our values are indeed libertarian - they are nonetheless tempered by biblical concepts of morality.
If we are going to define ourselves as a moral society formed of Judeo-Christian values – and I believe that the vast majority of Americans see themselves this way - undermining them is not the way to do that.
There is no material gain in calling a civil union marriage other than to further undermine current societal values. Civil unions already grants them any material benefit that marriage would. The only thing gained is breaking down religious and moral barriers with the ultimate goal of equating gay sex to heterosexual sex. That is anathema to the Torah and to Judeo-Christian values upon which this country was built. If this country chooses to embrace a purely libertarian ideal and abandon the Judeo-Christian ethic, then anything goes.
The ultimate libertarian ideal is to make no value judgment at all placed on any behavior that is private and among consenting adults. As long as you do not hurt or force yourslef on others – who cares what goes on in the bedroom? Sex between siblings – if they agree - why not? Mother-son, father–daughter? …as long as they are adults and agree, why stop them? Do we as a nation really want to go down that path? Without the bible what possible objection could one have?
Think it can’t happen? If one goes back a mere 40 or so years one would see a world that could never have imagined the attitudes about gay sex that we have today. It was just as taboo as incest and considered abnormal deviant behavior by all the behavioral sciences. But now it is considered by much of liberal society almost as normal as eating apple pie.