As voters in Washington State prepare to reject or uphold Senate Bill 6239, which made it the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, marriage equality advocates from the Jewish, Muslim, Baptist and Catholic communities, hoping to swell their numbers, told a crowd at a town hall-style meeting at Bellevue’s Temple B’nai Torah that a loving God would approve of the change in the law.
Well aware that their primary opposition comes from a coalition of hundreds of pastors from Protect Marriage Washington, who gathered 240,000 signatures — twice the number needed to get on the November ballot — TBT senior rabbi James Mirel decided to take the message to the people.
“This is an historic occasion. I don’t think anything like this has ever happened before,” Mirel told JTNews. Later, he added, “Much of the attention of the religious community has been in opposition to this issue. The world, at large, will be watching us.”
TBT’s cantor of 32 years, David Serkin-Poole, who was one of the first openly gay clergy to be hired in the Seattle area, told the newspaper that he and his partner of 31 years have plans to be one of the first in line to marry if the referendum passes. The couple has three now-adult children ages 26, 28, and 31. Serkin-Poole said he couldn’t be prouder of the Jewish community and TBT.
“To say ‘we’re on board for equality’ and it’s not just token [means] it’s for real,” said Serkin-Poole. “It feels wonderful. It feels phenomenal. It means there are no artificial barriers in my life…. This is my community.”
The hot August evening did not deter the crowd of nearly 75 from turning out to hear Jeff Siddiqui, a business owner, writer, and devout Muslim; Pastor Tim Phillips, of Seattle’s First Baptist Church; Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, of Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation on Mercer Island; and Catholics for Marriage Equality cofounder, layperson Kathy Morefield.
“I am not representing the Catholic Church,” said Morefield. “I’m representing myself along with members of Catholics for Marriage Equality, and the majority of Catholics in the United States of America who are for gay marriage. The Catholic Church has urged its members in Washington State to vote against Referendum 74. I was deeply troubled that my church would actively work toward and financially support a referendum to overturn a civil law that supported equal marriage.”
Rosenbaum told the audience that he has evolved on the issue of same-sex marriage, due, in part, to meeting friends and colleagues who are gay and lesbian.
“It’s a lot easier to say ‘no’ in the abstract, than it is to say ‘no’ to somebody you’ve known for a long time, that you count as a friend,” explained Rosenbaum. “One of the things that have contributed to my evolution was having gay friends, and seeing gay families operate like any other family, day after day.”
Rosenbaum also articulated his views on Jewish law as the panel grappled with questions surrounding one of the most cited scriptures from the Torah used to defend an anti-same–sex marriage position, Leviticus 18:22.
“The Torah says all kinds of things that we would never, in a thousand years, do today,” said Rosenbaum. “It’s very rare, that for any moral issue of any kind…we never simply go back to the Bible. You have to give a compelling, ethical reason.”
In the current law, marriage is redefined as “between two persons,” replacing the language “between a male and a female.” The bill also exempts religious organizations and clergy from having to perform same-sex marriages.
Siddiqui, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen since 1986, told the crowd that he would like to see same-gender marriage treated as a civil matter.
“Let’s set the religion part aside,” said Siddiqui. “Our churches have no right to decide how it will impact the rest of society.”
Siddiqui said that gay people in Pakistan are also persecuted. He believes it is part of human nature to find a scapegoat.
Condemning the opposition to Referendum 74, Siddiqui said, “They are stoking fear, and we need to tell them that this fear-mongering and this narrow-minded push to condemn a group…needs to stop now.”
Phillips, who has been with his male partner for 13 years, agreed that same-gender marriage should be a solely civil matter. He recalled a painful youth having to deny his sexuality and today, he said, he is denied a marriage.
“The state of Washington has given me the legal right to marry people, and yet my partner and I cannot be married,” said Phillips. “Doesn’t that seem ironic to you?”