On January 4, 2012, I had the privilege of participating in an historic event at the state capitol, when Governor Christine Gregoire announced she would introduce legislation to ensure marriage equality for all people in Washington State. It was exciting and moving to be present that day, surrounded by legislators and other community leaders and activists who had worked hard for years on this issue.
Standing at the podium, Gov. Gregoire shared her internal struggle, as she had tried to reconcile what her faith tradition taught with her own beliefs about what was right and just. She said she had called her priest that morning to tell him of her decision. As she spoke to us and the press, her words were firm and unequivocal: The time had come, she said, for the state to stop discriminating against one group of people by denying them the rights that other citizens enjoyed. During that legislative session, she said, she would back legislation guaranteeing marriage equality, and she was confident the proposed legislation would pass.
As we all know, she was absolutely right. From that moment on, everything unfolded very rapidly. First the Senate and then the House passed the legislation, and then Gov. Gregoire signed the bill into law (Senate Bill 6239) on February 13, 2012, making Washington the seventh state in the country to grant those who are LGBTQ the right to marry.
Opponents of marriage equality quickly went to work. They filed their intention with the Secretary of State’s office to put a referendum on the ballot, which has been designated as Referendum 74. If the opponents gather a sufficient number of signatures (more than 120,000) it will be placed on the November ballot, to be voted upon by the public. At that point, Ref. 74 must be approved by the public by 50 percent plus 1; otherwise, the marriage-equality law will be repealed. Failure to approve by 50 percent plus 1 essentially vetoes what the legislature and the governor already approved.
As Jews, we are guided by a number of core values in determining how we treat others and the world around us. First and foremost is the concept of tzelem elohim, the belief that every human being is created in the image of God, as it states in the Book of Genesis 1:2: “And God created the human being in God’s image in the image of God did God create the human; male and female God created them.”
Underlying this principle is the belief that all people, regardless of their race, religion, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or any other distinguishing characteristic, have an inherent right to dignity, or kavod. I believe that such dignity includes the right to love whom one chooses to love, and to sanctify that love in a way and manner that reflects one’s own deepest religious beliefs and practices. No person, institution, or government has the right to deny another person that dignity.
Another value that guides us as Jews is the concept of adam yachid. According to the sacred text of our people, the Torah, one human being — Adam — was created originally so no one can say, “My parent [father] was greater than your parent.” (M. Sanhedrin 4:5). In other words, all people are equal, and deserve to be treated equally.
But Judaism should not determine our civil law, just as it should not be determined by Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or any other religious tradition, for us or for others. Therefore, as Americans, we must insist that our civil laws be guided not by any one religious tradition or interpretation, but by the founding principles of this country, which declare: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. Italics mine). And, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (Amendment 1, Bill of Rights, ratified December 15, 1791).
Under the U.S. Constitution, the state may not require religious groups to officiate at, or bless, same-sex marriages. A clergy person may refuse, therefore, to marry an interfaith couple without any fear of liability. At the same time, however, it is not the state’s function or role to sanction one set of religious beliefs or practices over another. For the state to prevent the legal recognition of marriages of same-sex couples because some faith traditions object is to violate the religious liberty provisions of the Constitution.
Back to Judaism. As Jews we know that, in addition to the above concepts/values, we are also guided by the mitzvah, the sacred obligation, of “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof” — “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.” (Deut. 16:20). Pursuing justice means ending discriminatory practices that have been unfairly directed against any one person or any group.
Gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender people are citizens of this country and citizens of this state; they require the same rights as all other citizens. It is part of our sacred obligation as Jews to redress the injustice perpetrated against this one group for too long. Justice, justice, we will pursue, until all people, (whether coupled or single, gay or straight), are treated with dignity, kavod, and with an equal application of the law — with all of the rights and responsibilities thereof.
I urge all those who share my view to join me in speaking out in support of the recently passed marriage-equality law. Together we can ensure that same-sex couples can legally marry, while clergy and faith traditions can decide for themselves whether they will recognize and solemnize these legal marriages. As for this rabbi, I look forward to being able to sign legal marriage licenses for same-sex couples in the near future. I know my congregation enthusiastically supports my decision.