I can remember the moment marriage equality became important to me. More than eight years ago I sat down with a member of our local clergy, David Serkin-Poole, a man who with his partner Michael had adopted and raised three children with special needs. Why, I wondered, was I allowed to marry the woman I loved? I hadn’t done anything particularly special or important by the time I walked down the aisle, and I took that right for granted. Yet here was someone who has done this much good — and continues to do good things for his congregation and his community — and he doesn’t get the same right to marry the man he loves?
Since then, this newspaper has expressed support for marriage equality. With a measure on our ballots to uphold same-sex marriage in Washington State, I ask today that you do the same and vote to approve Ref. 74.
While I don’t mean to put the Serkin-Pooles on a pedestal — after all, they deal with the same ups and downs and mundanities of life as any other couple — it was the opportunity to understand their lives and the indignity of being denied something as fundamental as a marriage certificate that made me understand how this family was considered less than equal in the eyes of the law.
As Jews, many of us have known what it is like to be shut out of certain areas of society, whether it was in health clubs, colleges, neighborhoods, or, as we remember far too well, civilization as a whole. Many of us cite past discrimination as a reason to prevent it further today.
When we wrote an editorial in 2009 in support of Referendum 71, which gave same-sex couples “everything but marriage,” we said this:
It’s an issue of fairness. As Jews, whether it’s because we have experienced unequal rights so many times in the past, or because we live in the belief of loving thy neighbor as thyself, it should be of utmost importance to ensure that our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow synagogue members have the same rights as everyone else.
That holds true today. We said at the same time that the issue then wasn’t about marriage, but about those rights that married couples often take for granted. What has become clear is that “everything but marriage” is not enough. There are still times when a couple during a crisis must pull out a card proving a domestic partnership. That partnership is recognized here, but not necessarily everywhere else. And is anyone renting a tux and booking a DJ after heading down to Olympia to pick up a domestic partnership registration card?
Opponents of this measure say Ref. 74 redefines marriage. This law would redefine who can get married, but for those of you married already, I have one simple question: How does it redefine your marriage?
Think about that. For two people who love each other to be able to walk down the aisle and stand in front of a rabbi and declare to their community that they are joined in marriage both before God and before the state is a very powerful thing. How can we justify that such a right shouldn’t be available to everyone?
What’s interesting is how the marriage issue transcends party lines. According to a poll released earlier this year by the Public Religion Research Institute, fully 81 percent of Jews support same-sex marriage. Taking a closer look, of the people who identified as Democrat, 89 percent approved of marriage equality. That’s most, but not all. Fully half of Jews who consider themselves Republican — 48 percent, plus the margin of error —also approve. The study also noted the trend of support is heading in one direction: Up.
We are well aware that not everyone agrees or will agree on this issue. That’s okay. Passage of the referendum doesn’t mean the conversation has to stop, and the law is explicit in stating that clergy who do not wish to perform such marriages cannot be obliged to do so.
Many halachic Jews, those who live strictly by the laws set forth by the Torah, see the idea of two men or two women getting married as a problem due to the prohibition of them lying together. But marriage is about far more than consummation. We all know this — it’s about teamwork, it’s getting through the night when a partner is sick, it’s watching TV together, it’s getting the kids to school on time. It’s loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
As a newspaper that serves our entire Jewish community, we must welcome in as much of our community as we can, regardless of anyone’s place on the spectrum of observance.
Over the last couple decades, more and more synagogues and Jewish agencies have become welcome homes to gay, lesbian and transgendered Jews. A coalition of 28 Jewish organizations across the state are leading the charge to approve Ref. 74 because they too see the need to seek justice for everyone who comes through their doors. We are proud to be a part of that coalition.
So please vote to approve Ref. 74. You can do it for Cantor Serkin-Poole. Or your neighbor. Or your sister. All things being equal, we all should be equal.