A Conservative rabbi’s case for marriage equality

I’m a rabbi, so I support marriage equality. My support of marriage equality is an expression of my faith. It … Continued

I’m a rabbi, so I support marriage equality.

My support of marriage equality is an expression of my faith. It arises from fundamental principles found in the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinic tradition, among them, that each human being is made in the divine image, that affording full dignity to every person is a religious obligation, and that we are commanded to pursue social justice. It arises from the Biblical injunction that it is “not good” for a person to be alone, and that the opportunity to create a family is an essential aspect of our humanity, and of our obligation to express, as fully as possible, the image of God reflected within.

Of course, not everything we do reflects the divine, and not every relationship should be sanctified as a marriage. Where a relationship is abusive, unhealthy or demeaning – or where love and trust are absent – it would be a travesty to sanctify that relationship in the name of God. But where two people love each other, support and nurture each other’s growth and well-being, and seek through marriage to publicly acknowledge and sanctify their mutual commitment and the presence of God within their relationship – to my mind it is a travesty to withhold that acknowledgment and sanctification. Gender simply has nothing to do with it.

I’m a Conservative rabbi, so I support marriage equality.

Conservative Judaism is committed to Jewish law (halakhah), and my support of marriage equality stems also from that commitment. Our halakhic decision-making body has determined that Conservative rabbis may perform same-sex marriages, and has developed inspiring same-sex wedding ceremonies. Not every Conservative rabbi agrees that same-sex marriage is Jewishly permissible; we’re a pluralistic movement, and share the blessing of passionate disagreement and engagement. But for me, the permissibility under Jewish law of performing same-sex marriages translates into a religious obligation: where it is possible and permissible to enhance human dignity, the meta-principles outlined above require us to do so.

I’m an American rabbi, so I support marriage equality.

As a beneficiary of this magnificent democracy, I am morally (and religiously) compelled to support its fundamental principles, including religious freedom and the separation of church and state. I am not free to advocate for the enshrinement of a single religious viewpoint or practice, even were such a belief or practice to coincide with my own religious commitments. And I am morally (and religiously) compelled to advocate for full equality and justice of everyone before the law, even those whose beliefs or practices conflict with mine. So even if my faith did not permit me to perform same-sex marriages, I (like some of my rabbinic colleagues and many of the faith traditions represented in the amicus briefs) would nevertheless support marriage equality in the United States.

I’m a rabbi, so I support marriage equality.

Nor does my commitment to religious freedom in America require me to choose between my faith and my patriotism. My tradition teaches that authentic faith is grounded in humility, especially humility in the human attempt to understand the divine. We limited, finite human beings can never fully plumb (much less articulate!) the will of the infinite, eternal one. The impossibility of the endeavor need not undermine our passionate aspiration toward it, but it does demand certain safeguards: among them, rigorous lifelong study, the practice of religious precepts which sensitize the soul and refine our moral center, communal participation and decision-making, and regular, meaningful engagement with those who differ and disagree. It is through the totality of human striving for the holy – each tradition passionately committed to its own paths – that the human species best approximates an understanding of the divine.

Pluralism is hard, no less for a person of faith. We observant Jews feel as keenly as anyone the challenge of maintaining counter-cultural beliefs and practices. But from a religious (and not only civil) perspective, we ought not turn to the law to smooth such challenges in our paths. Rather, as a person of faith, I embrace America’s aspiration to more perfectly embody a religiously diverse society, in which people of all faiths and of no faith are fully equal before the law. I embrace it as an aid to my personal spirituality – sharpening and refining my beliefs and aspirations — and also as a holy process in itself.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “I think it is the will of God that there should be religious pluralism.” So the more America succeeds in maintaining the separation of church and state, ensuring religious freedom and equal protection for all, the more fully we welcome God into our land.

I’m an American Conservative rabbi, so I support marriage equality.

Rabbi Jan Uhrbach is the Rabbi of Nahar in New York City and of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons in Sag Harbor; she is a member of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, and a signatory to the amicus briefs in the Windsor and Perry cases currently before the Supreme Court.

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  • GALOSTinDC

    Thank you! The Reform Jewish movement and organization trumpet their progressive beliefs. It is wonderful to hear this well-thought out argument from a Conservative leader, too.

  • jamesmark39

    Dear Rabbi Uhrbach,

    As a gay man in a loving and long-term relationship I have a vested interest and personal stake in the outcomes of the cases that will be argued before the SCOTUS later this month. Your column is among the most thoughtful and cogent I have ever read regarding this issue as well as the need for the separation of church and state. I sincerely thank you for your contribution to the discussion.