Some days while driving to a downtown meeting or hospital, I listen to KTTH-AM 770, “The Truth” ‘— Seattle radio’s offering of conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura Schlesinger, and Michael Medved. Other days I tune into Seattle’s progressive FM radio station, KPTK-AM 1090, with the lesser-known but equally vitriolic Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes, and Ed Schultz. I’m not schizophrenic, but I am very interested in hearing opinions, not only at both ends of my radio dial, but also at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Whether you place your own self to the left, right or center of the American political spectrum, I think it is wise to listen to the arguments of “the other side.”
As I mentioned the last time I wrote in this space, my own parents were very conservative Republicans and observant Reform Jews — all in all, quite a rare species in any Jewish community. While most members in my childhood synagogue favored Democrats, labor unions, and more government spending to care for the poor, my parents espoused fiscal and individual responsibility along with lighting Shabbat candles weekly, regular Friday night and Shabbat morning service attendance, and a fully kosher Pesach. Because of this upbringing it always was and remains clear to me that Jews can be part of any political party and favor the rantings of Rush or Thom.
But there was one element of my upbringing that I never could reconcile with Judaism or politics. From day one, my parents taught my sisters and I that homosexuality was an abomination and that we should avoid homosexuals whenever we met them. It was certainly easy enough to avoid contact in my 1960s small town, as no gay or lesbian person of that time would have dreamed of identifying him or herself publicly. As a child, I did possess a funny image in my head that I might find myself walking down the street, minding my own business, and pictured what it might be like to suddenly find myself face to face with a homosexual — though I wasn’t quite clear what one looked like. I worried, though, that I would have to cross the street in order to honor my father and my mother! In the time and place where I grew up, fear and loathing of sexual minorities was shared by pretty much everyone. School children of liberal Democrats along with everyone else used terrible anti-gay invective on the school playground. I can honestly say that I never did use that pejorative term or understand the anger or the energy of the anger directed at sexual minorities.
Today, denial of full equality for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender individuals and couples to serve in the military and to get married has become increasingly identified with a more conservative political stance. As it has become more acceptable for LGBT individuals to live openly, many more of us have come to know them personally as who they are rather than from the stories we were told as children.
We Jews are well aware that it becomes harder for others to believe that all Jews have horns once they meet us and find out that we don’t. (The time I spent in a rural college in Kentucky helped sort this issue out for numerous undergrads at that school). So, too, once we come to know an excellent person who happens to be gay; and once we find out that the amazing physician who saved our life is a lesbian; and once we get to know a stable, middle class family with family values like our own who happens to have two moms or two dads, it becomes tougher for us to continue to see them as the sexual deviants or marriage destroyers that society has portrayed them to be.
Because of my upbringing, I don’t think that people who think differently than me on this issue are awful or evil. I do think it is time for people of all faiths and all political parties to understand that in order for America to remain the great country it is, sexual minorities— just like women; just like Jews; just like African-Americans— must have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as all citizens of this country.
By now it should be clear that the ancient biblical prohibitions against sex between males (the Torah has no opinion on sex between women) fall into the same category as the obligation to stone to death the wayward and rebellious son. Orthodox law may decide that it cannot sanction kiddushin, marriage under the chuppah, while other branches of Judaism do embrace kiddushin for Jewish marriages regardless of sexual identity. The beauty of our country is that it makes room for all of these individual religious expressions while simultaneously upholding the rights of all citizens.
One can be an excellent conservative Republican or liberal Democrat, and one can be an observant or any kind of Jew and, as Americans, we can all recognize the full rights and responsibilities of LGBT individuals and couples to serve our country and attain the sanctity of marriage in their lifelong partnerships.