Monday, July 25, 2011

Loving the Sinner, Hating the Sin

There was something unsettling about a Jewish mayor of a city whose Jewish population is such a large portion of the total performing a marriage ceremony between two men. Yesterday was the first day that homosexuals could get legally married in New York.

Those who read this blog regularly should know well my position on homosexuality. In a nutshell it is ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’. I have no issues whatsoever with Orthodox Jews who are attracted to members of the same sex. As long as they do not try and legitimize behavior that the Torah explicitly forbids.

That they may succumb to sin is no different than when any of us succumb to sin. The important thing is to realize that behavior which is sinful is wrong and that if one violates Halacha one should do Teshuva. Which requires admitting the sin and resolving never to do it again. The Torah recognizes human nature. We all have desires. Sometimes they are for things which are permitted and sometimes they are for things which are forbidden. The Torah requires that we control our desires for the forbidden and not act upon them. But the Torah does not require that we change our nature. So if someone is homosexual by nature that is not a problem in Halacha.

Whenever this topic is brought up, it will bring out strong emotions on all sides. Admittedly, I am somewhat conflicted by it. I guess that’s the nature of hating the sin and loving the sinner. So I think it’s important to analyze the reality of gay marriage in the light of human nature and Halacha.

Homosexuals are very much like heterosexuals when it comes to leading their lives. There is no uniform homosexual type. The personalities run the gamut from flamboyant to very private. Their lifestyles can be very conservative or very liberal. They can be very immoral and very moral. Whatever applies to a heterosexual applies to a homosexual.

My approach is to look at the individual. If he is promiscuous or flamboyant about his sexual escapades and flaunts that kind of lifestyle, he has little respect from me – whether he is gay or straight. But if he is modest in his ways and keeps his sex life to himself, it is none of my business what he does behind closed doors. That is between him, his partner (whether male or female), and God. For me this is not a gay or straight issue. It is an issue of morally acceptable public behavior.

That said I am opposed to homosexual marriage. (...although I am not opposed to granting homosexuals certain rights usually reserved for married couples - like inheritance rights). Marriage formalizes a relationship that involves sinful behavior. It not only puts a public imprimatur on such behavior it normalizes it. It is saying to society that homosexual behavior is not only normal but state sanctioned. That goes far beyond loving the sinner and hating the sin. It is saying ‘Love the sin!’ That homosexual sex is morally the same as heterosexual sex. Marriage is a religiously based concept – hence the term holy matrimony. There is nothing holy about 2 men getting married to each other.

That said I fully understand why moral and decent homosexuals are so happy about this. They want to be as fully accepted in society as are heterosexual couples. They want the fullness of life that only a happy marriage can offer them - with all the legal and social benefits. I can’t really blame them. They are stuck with their sexual orientation in the same way that heterosexuals are stuck with theirs. They do not want to be forever seen as... (pick your pejorative)! Legalizing marriage takes a big step in that direction. And although I truly sympathize with them, this is a wrong step. It goes too far. If one is a religious Jew one cannot accept normalizing behavior that the Torah forbids. This is the Jewish view. It is our heritage based on the Torah.

So when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg performed a marriage ceremony on a gay member of his staff and his male partner, it was in essence a repudiation of his own heritage. I realize the mayor is not an Orthodox Jew nor is he particularly religious. But just because one rejects his heritage doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one.

I am as sorry to see this happen as I would be if any Issur in the Torah was given societal approbation. Although this was being done with the best of intentions it was misguided. It takes the United States down one notch on the morality scale to legalize a forbidden relationship via the act of marriage - which is supposed to holy.

I watched the media frenzy with all reporters seeing this as a great breakthrough in the area of gay rights. That drove home to me just how acceptable gay marriage has become – at least as it is seen by the media. The reporters all had smiling faces happy to see a gay couple who had been living together monogamously for years finally getting married! On the face of it, I could understand the sympathy. Two nice people finally being recognized as normal by the state with tears of joy streaming down their faces. It’s hard not to be sympathetic when you see something like that.

However, if one is a religious Jew then one cannot see this as anything but misplaced sympathy. Nor do I think this is necessarily the way most Americans see it. But that may be changing. Media figures are very influential and many people learn to react to events of the world by seeing how the media reacts.

This is giant step backwards on the morality scale. It Kashers gay sex – something which the Torah explicitly forbids. Both for Jews and for all of humanity.

Lest someone say that it’s not of our business as Jews what non Jewish Americans do, I would counter that it is very much our business to be a light unto the nations. It is also in our interests to try and get society in general to have high moral standards. We Jews cannot help but be influenced by the culture in which we live - no matter how much we try not to be. On that level we have to raise our objections to legitimizing something which we see as forbidden.

It was not a good day for America. It was in fact a sad day.