Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Marriage Equality"--A Blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Rabbi Marc D. Angel
May 10 2012- President Obama framed his endorsement of same-sex “marriage” as an advancement of civil rights and “marriage equality.” After all, why shouldn’t two people who love each other be allowed to marry? 
Fyodor Dostoevski once wrote: “If there is no God, then everything is permissible.” Stated another way, if morality is entirely determined by human beings, then human beings can decide what they think is moral or immoral. God is not part of the equation. Thus, if humans decide that same sex “marriage” is moral, then that is their right. God has no say in the matter.
For those of us who believe that God’s will is reflected in the Torah and our religious tradition, morality is not in the sole province of human beings. There is a God, and not everything is permissible. Same sex “marriage” is prohibited. 
While same sex “marriage” is not allowed in the Torah tradition, this does not justify discrimination against homosexual individuals. This does not justify negative stereotyping. Homosexuals are created in the “image of God,” as are all human beings; as such, they are entitled to the respect and kindness that should be shown to fellow human beings. Just as the Torah disallows homosexual unions, so the Torah disallows callous mistreatment of others. 
For religious people, the issue of same sex “marriage” is not in the category of a battle for civil rights or “marriage equality.” It has far different and far greater implications. This issue goes to the core of our religious framework of life. Is morality to be determined solely by human beings, or does the word of God play an essential role in defining morality? If we believe that our moral foundations are established by the will of God, then morality is not subject to popular vote. 
For those who advocate “marriage equality” for same sex couples, various questions arise. Does “marriage equality” also extend to incestuous relationships? Should polygamy be a matter of individual choice? Should a woman be allowed to marry multiple husbands? Once God is removed from decisions on morality, then everything should be permissible in the name of equality and civil rights. Why stop at same sex “marriages?” Why have marriages at all? Why not give “equal rights” and tax breaks to any two people who live together? Why require divorces to terminate marriages? 
The Torah tradition views the marriage of man and woman as the fundamental human relationship upon which society is built and maintained. The marriage bond is sacred. The Torah and halakha have clear rules defining who may and who may not marry each other. These rules are not subject to popular opinion polls or votes; they do not hinge on political maneuverings. These rules reflect our trust that the will of God, as reflected in Torah and halakha, is a vital factor in the moral framework of our lives. 
The real issue here is not “marriage equality”—but how the moral foundations of society are established. If decisions are entirely in the domain of human beings, then a civil society can make whatever rules it wants, without reference to any Divine authority. The problem with this approach is that it essentially undermines a Divine foundation for morality, and leads to a subjective human-made morality that ultimately has no clear boundaries. Once God is removed from the equation, everything is—or can be, or should be—permissible. 
Religious people need to articulate a moral position that keeps God in the equation, that doesn’t see everything as permissible, or as a matter of popular opinion. This moral position should be articulated in a clear calm voice, not with fundamentalistic rantings or threats of Divine condemnation. 
There are good, sincere people on both sides of the discussion. It is vital for all of us to focus not simply on “marriage equality” but on the ultimate foundations of our moral lives. Hopefully, most people will choose to keep God and biblical tradition as vital factors in the moral equation. 
(Please visit for my program on the topic of halakha and same sex marriage.)

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