Gay Marriage: A Moral Choice?
Photo Galleria: 

Q - I have some sympathy for gay marriage, just legalized in New York, but I can't understand how anyone who takes the Torah seriously could consider it the proper moral choice. I mean, the book of Leviticus is rather explicit in describing homosexuality as "an abomination." How can anyone get around that?

A – Let me make it easy for you. What New York has done is to guarantee equal rights, legal and financial benefits that most couples take for granted, involving unemployment assistance, medical services, estate planning and taxes. You can see some of them listed here. If you are one of the shrinking minority who now disapprove of gay marriage and even if you consider homosexuality a sinful life-choice, it is still possible to support this law on the basis of fairness and equality, without compromising your religious views. Granting equal rights is the right moral choice.

Not only is this a matter of equal rights, it’s also a classic church / state case. I don’t want the government promoting a particular religious perspective at the expense of others, because invariably, since I am not from the majority, the religious perspective that is excluded will be my own. I see abortion in that light too. Just as I don’t want the government to impose one set of views as to when life begins (and Judaism’s take differs markedly from the fundamentalist Christian view), I also don’t want government and religion to mix when it comes to marriage.

Yes, I believe that marriage is a sacred institution, but not because of anything the government mandates. When I perform a wedding, I am acting both on behalf of the state, as a licensed justice of the peace, and Jewish tradition, as a rabbi. The two roles are combined but they are distinct, as evidenced by the two separate wedding documents that are signed, the ketubah and the state license.

I’ve never had a concern over the legalization of gay civil marriage, even as my religious views have, to quote the President, “evolved.” I could conceivably perform a wedding ceremony that the state would call “marriage” but that might deviate slightly from the traditional Jewish rites known as “kiddushin.” Even those who are religiously ambivalent can support gay civil marriage wholeheartedly, then, for the very reason that we don’t want our government getting into the religion business.

Perspectives have been evolving dramatically over the past few decades, in both the scientific and religious communities. Among mainstream psychologists, homosexuality is no longer seen as either a mental disorder or, for the most part, a matter of choice. Theologically, many liberal Jews and Christians now view the Leviticus prohibition as referring to cultic prostitution and specifically to anal sex, but not to committed, loving relationships.

For many, including myself, the tipping point on this issue was the AIDS crisis, when we were appalled at those supposed representatives of God who responded to unbelievable suffering with mean-spirited accusations of divine retribution. As a Jew, I was disgusted at the social victimization and physical abuse suffered by the LGBT community, culminating in recent highly publicized suicides of persecuted young people.

I was further sickened by the politicization of this issue by the religious fundamentalists (Christian and Jewish) and am happy that only the radical fringe has failed to realize that persecution of gays has now become a losing issue in national elections. I believe in a loving God who would not have created human beings “hard wired” to live out their lives in frustration and loneliness. I also join with my rabbinic forbearers in wishing for everyone a life of dignity and wholeness.

Finally, don’t fall for the “slippery slope” argument that this will inevitably lead to the legalization of bestiality or incest. That is an insult to all of us, gay and straight alike. When there is an organized Bestiality Rights Movement afoot, complete with parades, protests and petitions with thousands of signatures (and hoof prints) decrying speciesist discrimination, then get back to me.

In the meantime, even if you disagree with the outcome, which is your right, you can celebrate the fact that many thousands of good, kind, loving people will now have the same rights that you and I have.

Last Update:

04/01/2013 - 17:44
AIDS, Gay Marriage, halachic prohibition, Leviticus

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


Personally and religiously, I'm against Gay marriage. There isn't anything for or against gay marrige in the US Constitution becuase that was not the issue of the day. In a secular nation, we have to permit things we may not even like or agree with. I think the Supreme Court will rule in favor of Gay Marriage because it is an issue of "equality" rather than one of morality- I think.

It is clear that there is a prohibition against homosexual activity in the Torah. There are also provisions for sacrifices and other things that even very observant Jews in this century would not consider doing (or not doing). What makes it so hard for people to get past this particular issue? I raise the question in all seriousness. In general, adults don't even talk about sexual activity with a loved one except with the loved one. Why do we care so much about homosexuality? There is no evidence that homosexuality is harmful to a community.

Your article was thoughtful. As a fellow rabbi, I have struggled to align my personal beliefs about the rights that gay Americans should have with a Judaism that traditionally did not recognize some of those same rights. You helped to put much of that into perspective. Thanks.

Now that Gay Marriage has been approved it is time for Reform and Conservative Congregations to promote LGBTV Rabbinical and Lay leadership. It is time for our institutions to mainstream homosexual life choices in their communities. Our children need homosexual role models to show that this lifestyle is acceptable and encouraged. Isn't it time for Reform and Conservative Congregations to promote this worthy cause?

The chorus of approval for the recently-signed same sex marriage law in New York State --- the largest jurisdiction among six to have assented --- will increasingly become both more accepting and harmonious. The essence of the law lies in viewing it as a gaint step towards greater equity; promotion of individual happiness for a hereto despised population; and the realization that homosexuality, alas, is not prone to heterosexual resolution through compulsion, the imposition of drug therapy, or the denial that at the root of homosexuality is a chromosome that makes the individual having it to be naturally inclined to this group --- certainly, it is most emphatically not a matter of choice! Let us welcome the minority of Jews, including the Orthodox, and even rabbis, coming out of the closet into the sunshine, affirming for them what has been taken for granted by the majority, our common humanity!
Woodmere, NY

Bravo to Rabbi Joshua Hammerman! You cover the issue well and are clear as to the reason behind your views.

I am a gay man. I do not follow any faith. I do have several very religious relatives who have "evolved" and who are now much less ignorant and frightened. I also have an extremely conservative Christian aunt who feels that her faith allows her to be hateful and disrespectful toward my partner and I. That particular aunt was told that her views were unwelcome and hurtful. She has "chosen" to not be part of our lives at this point. This is sad for her, because she is missing out on not only knowing my partner and I . . . but knowing many LGBT people that are smart, funny, brave, loving and amazing people. Sadly, her own son is gay and she doesn't know it. He's too frightened of being disowned to share this fact with his own mother.

My partner and I were legally married here in California during the brief window a few years back. We have been in a committed, monogamous relationship for nearly 13 years. LGBT people are getting closer to full equality and your insightful article helps move minds closer. Most people are living in the 21st Century. Those that are not tend to still use phrases like, "DEATH BY STONING" to scare people. We are not afraid of their sticks, stones or words. History will not shine brightly on these people. There are not varying degrees of equality. We are all either equal or not.

Read 1 Kings 11-13. Jeroboam gave Israel what he thought were "wonderful alternatives" as well and the result was disaster. The God of the Torah is not a God of compromise.

Robert & I live in the "marriage capital of the world", Las Vegas, where two complete strangers, a man and a woman, can share a few drinks at the bar in the casino I work at, walk across the street to the courthouse and "marry". Of course, these folks who barely know each other will now be eligible for all 1000 rights and privileges that marriage will give to them.
Robert and I will always be grateful to Canada for treating us with the dignity and respect that two people who care for and love each other deserve. Our Canadian marriage will never be taken away from us. Here at home we have DRIVE THROUGH WEDDINGS!! People get married here by ELVIS Impersonators!!!. That's upholding the "sanctity" of marriage? C'mon folks, get a grip!
How sad that many Americans were duped into believing that Robert's and my marriage can really hurt their own. Anything for votes, we suppose. Ensign, anybody? Gibbons? Bill Clinton? Mark Sanford? Newt Gingrich is STILL out there "defending" his FOUR marriages! Meanwhile the Rep. that WROTE the Defense of Marriage Act, Bob Barr, has changed his mind and says it was one of the worst pieces of legislation he ever wrote. And he's working hard to help repeal it. We are Stuart and Robert Wyman-Cahall...we are your neighbors, friends, and co-workers.
Robert and I were celebrating 10 years together when we were married in Canada SEVEN years ago this July. Seventeen years of going on life's journey together, taking care of each other in sickness and in health, worrying about high gas prices, our economic future, the wars and its impact on our country and every thing else America has on its plate right now.
We hope that one day Americans will appreciate the founding father's gift of true religious freedom. And now New York joins the states that do allow marriage equality and will apply marriage law equally to all its citizens, gay or straight and churches in these states and D.C. will now be FREE to say YES or NO as their church doctrines allow. The next step? The Defense of Marriage Act is odious and should be relegated to the dust bins of a history so dark that future generations will be ashamed to know what Americans did in our sacred voting booths. What were you thinking?
Stuart & Robert Wyman-Cahall

Good article. I've always thought that we need an additional word for the legal partnership of two adults. The issue is how the State sees the union as a business arrangement in any case. Taxes, hospital and prison visitation, inheritance and other important right and responsibilities.


When did the New York Jewish Week convert to Frankism?

Last time I checked homosexual acts are literal a "Toeva" , abomination, the punishment for which is DEATH BY STONING in the Torah. This isn't a matter of Rabbinic interpretation, it is the text. There is nothing in Judaism that allows for Homosexual marriage anymore than for marrying ones pet, with the presumption of consummation. Saying "I don't buy the slippery slope argument" does not make it less true. 40 years ago, you would be laughed at for even talking about Jews ordaining homosexuals, much less Jewish Rabbis marrying them. And yet, here we are today. If that isn't a slippery slope, what is?

That a majority of New Yorkers may support Gay Marriage might speak to its political merits but has no relevance to morality. Judaism isn't about being popular, it is about following G_d's commandments and being a light unto the nations. But if it is popular, by all means build a pyre to Molech and incinerate you children their, so that you may be blessed with wealth and fertility. While you are at it, please do burn your copy of the Tanach lest you be bothered by the whole parts of the Prophets railing at the relativism and following of local customs you seem to support here.

And where is the morality of forcing people and institutions who oppose homosexual marriage to treat them as equals. Shall ew follow the path of Sweden and England and have the courts sue religious institutions? Or that of Massachusetts where Catholic Charities have been forced out of adoptions? If you support tyrannical egalitarian leftism do not subvert Judaism, just be honest about your moral underpinnings.

Our Newsletters, Your Inbox