Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The ‘Supremes’ Got it Right

Baker Jack Philips vs a gay couple: Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins (Fox)
Stop! - In the Name of Love was one of the many hits by a group called the Supremes back in the sixties. It is in the name of ‘love’ that 2 gay people demanded their rights in a dispute with a baker a few years ago. But the Supremes I am about to deal with are not the singing Supremes. More about that later.

Back in the late sixties, when I was an undergrad at Roosevelt University studying Psychology  homosexuality was considered a mental disorder.  I clearly remember that chapter in my Abnormal Psychology textbook. As I do my professor articulating it as such. There was no question about that all the way up to 1973. (Not really that long ago). That’s when the American Psychological Association de-pathologized it out of their DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual). Homosexuality was now just considered an alternative lifestyle – as legitimate as heterosexuality.

How the APA arrived at a decision normalizing behavior that what was considered a mental disorder all the way into the 70s is a question that deserves serious inquiry, but is beyond the scope of this post. I am not making any judgments about that decision. I mention it just to give some perspective about how things have so radically changed in so short a time.

In the present day homosexuals are free to be completely out of the closet. Before 1973, virtually anyone that had a same sex attraction kept it secret for obvious reasons. If they were caught in a gay act, they were pretty much ostracized by society. Today, they are considered completely normal thanks to TV shows like Will and Grace – a series that portrays its gay character the same they would any heterosexual. You wouldn’t know he was gay except for the occasional reference to it on the show. He is portrayed as a successful, upper middle class professional who is charming, very bright and very personable.  An ethical, moral, and attractive person that  anyone would want as a dear friend… and even as a marriage partner!

In my view it was this kind of portrayal that began with this series (and which has since been emulated many times across the entire American entertainment landscape) that changed the national perspective from one of rejection to one of near total acceptance. The majority of Americans now support gay rights as a civil right - including gay marriage which has become the law of the land. Discrimination against a gay person is considered the same as discrimination against a black person or a Jewish person. 

While all of this seems like an expression of civil rights at its most pristine level, it ignores the fact that homosexual sex is a sin in all 3 of the major faiths. For Jews it is a biblical prohibition no less severe than violating Shabbos.

Just to be clear, I am not judging gay people for who they are. Whatever the cause of same sex attraction (be it nature, nurture... or both) I believe that it is extremely difficult if not impossible  to change. 

It should also be clear that it is not the attraction that is forbidden. It is a specific act common to homosexuals as expression of love from one man to anther (i.e. anal sex) that is forbidden. That doesn’t change just because our attitude about same sex attractions has changed.

One may ask, is it really possible (or even likely) that 2 gay men will live together as husband and husband without ever engaging in that forbidden act? Possible? Yes. Likely? Probably not.

All of the above is why I believe that we may not discriminate against them, and must treat gay people the same way we treat heterosexual people. With the dignity vested in them by God - Who created all human beings in His image. 

But at the same time I am opposed to gay marriage. While supporters believe that gay marriage is just a logical extension of their civil rights, I believe that a government whose values are based on many of the principles outlined in the bible - should not be sanctioning behavior that is biblically forbidden.

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision disagreed with me - which as noted - makes it the law of the land. Which brings me to an issue that many people thought was resolved by a lower court decision regarding a case where gay (civil) rights were in conflict with religious rights – both of which are enshrined in the US constitution.

At issue was whether Jack Philips, a baker was required to violate his religious beliefs by baking a wedding cake for a gay couple. He refused and was taken to court by that gay couple. Long story short a Colorado court ruled in favor of the gay couple - saying that denying service to a gay couple was a violation of their civil rights. That ruling was held up on appeal. In both cases ignoring the claim by Philips that his religious rights would be violated if he was forced to do that.

Yesterday, in a 7-2 decision the Supreme Court set aside that decision ruling that Mr. Philips’ religious rights were indeed not duly considered. 

The reactions to that decision have been predictable. Gay rights activists are disappointed. Religious rights activists are pleased. While the court did not rule on the overall issue of conflict between religious rights versus civil rights, at least they acknowledged that religious rights  must be taken into account. 

While it is true (if I understand correctly) that the court said that future cases must be judged on their own merit I am happy to see that religion hasn’t yet been thrown under the bus entirely. That the constitutional right to refuse service to anyone - if it contradicts their religious beliefs is still a factor to be considered. Until yesterday, I was beginning to believe that religious rights were going to be trampled anytime it came into conflict with any other rights.

It should not be that difficult to understand why baking a wedding cake for a gay couple might be a problem for someone that believes in the bible. Which expressly forbids gay sex. Something that will almost certainly happen in a marriage between 2 men.

That said, what is the Halacha for Jews? May we bake a cake – or in any other way facilitate a gay marriage? I have been told by a highly reliable source that a mainstream Posek permits it outright. I am not at liberty to say who my source is or who their Posek was. But it is a well known name in Charedi circles.

Even though the court decision was on this individual case, it is clearly a step in the right direction. A victory for religious rights. Especially considering that 2 of the 7 Justices who voted with the majority are Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan - both ‘dyed in the wool’ ‘card carrying’ liberals! God bless the United States of America.