Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit / Courtesy of Nicola Pettit
(Haaretz) — Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit will make history this Saturday when they become one of the first same-sex couples to legally marry in Britain.
More than that, their marriage will be among the first to receive a Jewish blessing, as Liberal and Reform streams prepare for a flurry of simchas to follow the change of law.
Since 2005, the United Kingdom has allowed civil partnerships which give the same rights and responsibilities as traditional marriage.
Campaigners, however, continued to lobby for full equality, facing opposition from conservative politicians and religious communities despite broad public backing. The new law comes into effect on Saturday March 29.
The couple, who live in southern England’s seaside Brighton resort, one of the country’s most bohemian centers of LGBT life, met when a mutual friend set them up on a blind date six-and-a-half years ago. “And that was that, really,” says 27-year-old Nicola.
At my bar mitzvah, many moons ago, I took the daring step to talk about… I can’t remember. Like most Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids, my remarks were pretty perfunctory.
But not those of Duncan McAlpine Sennett.
In a talk now trending on YouTube, Duncan starts out in straightforward fashion, talking about his Torah portion. But then he notices something strange: that the marriages between Jacob, Rachel, and Leah were arranged, with no consent of the women (or even Jacob himself, in part), and, in Duncan’s words, “Jacob married two sisters, who were both her first cousins!”
Duncan then observes how the definition of marriage has changed dramatically since Biblical times — and makes an impassioned plea to “change it just a little bit more, so that people can marry who they love.” Duncan’s timing is deliberate: same-sex marriage is on the ballot in his home state of Oregon next year, and as he name-checks his family’s gay friends in the audience, you can hear a pin drop.
The injustice and just plain weirdness of “traditional marriage” is something I myself noted in a much wordier, less eloquent article published last year. But this young man says it better, even in (or maybe, particularly in) the very familiar cadences of a bar mitzvah speech. Check it out here:
President Barack Obama wasted no time hailing the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage.
Within moments of the ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the president Tweeted:
Today’s DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for #MarriageEquality. #LoveIsLove.
Obama later applauded the decision that makes married gay men and women eligible for federal benefits, and he directed Attorney General Eric Holder to review all relevant federal laws to ensure the ruling is implemented.
“We are a people who declared that we are all created equal, and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said in a written statement. He got the news as he flew to Africa aboard Air Force One.
Obama said the ruling applies only to civil marriages and that how religious institutions define and consecrate marriages has always been up to those institutions.
The arguments over Proposition 8 – the California ban on same-sex marriage – gave tantalizing hints about the thinking of Supreme Court justices hearing the case.
After a lawyer in support of the ban, Charles Cooper, argued that procreation and child-rearing were fundamental to a state’s interest in marriage, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg brought up a previous Supreme Court case in which justices ruled prison inmates have a right to marry even though they may be prevented from procreating, according to the BBC.
“There are lots of people who get married who can’t have children,” Justice Stephen Breyer reportedly told Cooper.
And Justice Anthony Kennedy, often seen as a swing vote, suggested children of same-sex couples would suffer an “immediate legal injury” under the ban.
Despite the intriguing clues, a Jewish leader of the marriage-equality movement cautioned against reading too much into the arguments.
“Today’s argument was lively as the justices grappled with the mix of substantive and procedural questions raised in this challenge to Prop 8.,” Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, told the Forward in an e-mail.
“Now they are going to dig into the mountain of briefs and evidence from a who’s who of America … all showing there is no good reason for denying committed same-sex couples the freedom to marry. It’s always tempting, and often misleading, to speculate about oral argument, but the truth is that it’s in the opinion-writing and circulating process that the justices reach their result,” said Wolfson, widely regarded as a pioneer in marriage rights in the U.S.
Many analysts said the justices appeared to be considering a narrow ruling in the case and avoiding a pronouncement about whether a fundamental right to gay marriage exists in the constitution.
Let’s face it. Unless you send your child to a Jewish day school, Camp Ramah or Brandeis University, there is a high chance that he or she will become romantically involved with a non-Jew. While I appreciate Jane Eisner’s concerns in For 2013, A Marriage Agenda, she does not address some of the fundamental issues as to why non-Orthodox American Jews choose to marry non-Jews or do not get married at all.
Intermarriage is a deeply personal affair for American Jews, as most of us have a close relative or friend who has married out of the faith. If Eisner takes a look at the personal lives of major non-Orthodox Jewish donors and lay leaders in the United States, she will find that many of them are themselves married to non-Jews, or have children who are married to non-Jews.
How can she expect American Jewry’s “so-called leadership” to fight the battle against intermarriage when many of them have married out of the faith or have intermarried children? We are talking about people’s lives here, so a Jewish leader aggressively fighting against intermarriage will most likely risk hurting their intermarried children, friends and relatives. Like it or hate it, it is much easier to focus on Israel than to discuss an issue which so personally affects each and every one of us.
One major reason that only 50% of non-Orthodox Jews are married by age 31 for women and by 34 for men is that it has become prohibitively expensive for the middle class to raise children in the United States. A recent government report found that on average, it costs $235,000 for a middle-income family to raise a child from birth to age 17, excluding college, which can cost another few hundred thousand dollars. This figure does not take into account sending one’s child to a Jewish day school, synagogue membership, Jewish summer camp, Hebrew school, bar/bat-mitzvah, and so on.
A long list of characters helped elevate a pair of marriage-equality cases to the Supreme Court, where they’ll be heard in 2013. But if one person deserves credit for the ascent of the marriage-rights movement, it’s Evan Wolfson. In 2003, when even gay people felt it a fringe cause, Wolfson founded Freedom to Marry as a “campaign to win marriage nationwide.” A decade later, the organization has helped align marriage rights in nine states and Washington D.C. — and doubled public support for marriage equality to what Wolfson calls “a clear majority”.
Wolfson came to the marriage-equality fight battle-tested; in the 1990’s, he served as co-counsel in an historic Hawaii marriage case that essentially launched the cause. Wolfson has also reaped some of the fruits of his labor. He married biotech consultant Cheng He last October after the State of New York passed the Marriage Equality Act, a bill he pushed for himself. Wolfson, 55, spoke to the Forward from his Chelsea office.
Michael Kaminer: When you started Freedom to Marry, did you imagine you’d see marriage equality debated in front of the Supreme Court?
Evan Wolfson: That was always the goal. Our strategy derives from the lessons of history, from how America does its civil rights business, and from how other civil-rights movements have made progress. The strategy has always said we achieve social justice once either Congress or the Supreme Court brings the country to a national resolution. But that national resolution doesn’t come at the beginning, or even the early middle. It comes after a patchwork of struggles, and progress, and defeats, with some states moving faster while other states regress. The same strategy that brought us to this point of triumph and transformation will bring the freedom to marry home nationwide.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is setting himself up for a most almighty clash with the British religious establishment this week, as he prepares to amend the laws on marriage.
The leaders of all three main parties support government plans to afford same-sex couples the right to civil marriage, plus permission to wed in churches and other religious buildings. While the proposed law is designed to allow churches and congregations the flexibility of opting in or out of officiating same sex ceremonies, it is nonetheless opposed by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.
Orthodox Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and the London Beth Din also oppose any alterations to the traditional definition of marriage. The United Synagogue, of which Rabbi Sacks is the spiritual leader, maintains that “marriage from time immemorial has been that of a union between a man and a woman”, and as such “any attempt to redefine this sacred institution would be to undermine the concept of marriage.”
Yet progressive Jewish denominations, along with Congregationalists, Unitarians, and Quakers, have been leading the push to host same-sex weddings in their places of worship. Liberal Judaism was the first branch to back the Coalition for Equal Marriage – the umbrella organisation lobbying in favour of same-sex marriage – asserting that, “as Liberal Jews, we want to support positive celebrations of life that help the individual to revel in life’s joys as well as to support them through life’s difficulties.”
There’s good news and bad news for President Obama in a new survey of American Jewish opinion released Thursday by the Workmen’s Circle. First, the bad news: Jewish voters favor Obama over Mitt Romney by about two to one — 59% to 27%, with 14% undecided. If undecideds follow the same 2-to-1 split, the result will be 68% to 32%. This points to a 10% drop from November 2008, when Obama got 78% of the Jewish vote, according to national exit polls at the time. The good news is that it’s not November yet, and if you compare June 2012 to June 2008, Obama is doing considerably better now than he was then. At this point in 2008 Jews were backing Obama by only 62% to rival John McCain’s 31%, according to Gallup’s tracking poll. Obama dropped further in July 2008, to 61-34, before beginning a steady rise in August. In fact, a surge might already be discernible this year, if we compare the Workmen’s Circle survey with a similar survey released two months ago, April 3, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute for the Nathan Cummings Foundation.
Will the president repeat his 2008 late-summer uptick? Hard to say. Romney isn’t likely to give him the sort of gift McCain offered when he chose the spectacularly unqualified Sarah Palin as his running-mate. On the other hand, everything else in the Workmen’s Circle poll, which was conducted by Professors Steven M. Cohen and Samuel Abrams, points to a Jewish public that remains solidly liberal. Given the starkly conservative cast of the Republican campaign so far, it seems unlikely that Romney could muster more enthusiasm among Jewish voters than the more moderate McCain did in 2008. It could be that distress over Obama’s Israel policies will lower his Jewish support, but both surveys show Israel playing very little role in Jewish voters’ thinking. In fact, Cohen’s statistical analysis of respondents’ preferences and demographic characteristics indicates that people who have strong opinions about Israel tend to show a host of other tendencies that factor as strongly if not more so into their decisions.
In some ways the Workmen’s Circle survey confirms the trends that turned up in the Cummings Foundation survey in April; in other ways the WC sample is more conservative (I’m not sure why, and I won’t speculate right now). In certain ways, both polls — and a third one, the American Jewish Committee annual survey, released April 30 — look remarkably similar. Remarkable, that is, considering that they use different methodologies, draw on different population samples and reflect a variety of sponsors’ ideologies from the upscale liberal Cummings Foundation to the grittier left-liberal Workmen’s Circle to the devoutly centrist AJC.
President Obama’s announcement on same-sex marriage is good for the Jews. Why? Here are three reasons.
First is the “who.” Obama’s support of same-sex marriage signals that he’s not going to let a noisy religious minority dictate public policy. This is important for all religious minorities, including the Jewish one, because that same group of angry fundamentalists wants to Christianize America, support the radical settler-fringe in Israel against Israel’s own best interests (as reflected by the mainstream of Israeli public opinion), and erode the separation of church and state.
Read the Forward’s news story about Jewish groups supporting Obama’s statement on gay marriage.
There are those in the Orthodox Jewish community who have made deals with this same fundamentalist devil on issues concerning women, contraception, LGBT people, Israel, “intelligent design,” and the funding of religious schools and institutions. Often, they agree with the fundamentalists substantively (as on same-sex marriage), and other times it’s just a marriage of convenience. But in both cases, such alliances are deeply short-sighted. If American Jews care about maintaining our religious freedom, we must not allow sectarian religious values to dictate public policy. Period.
Second is the “what.” Obama’s statement brings him in line not just with 55% of the American public, as revealed in a recent Gallup poll, but with the overwhelming majority of non-fundamentalist religious people as well.
It isn’t news that American Jews overwhelmingly support legalizing gay marriage. But a new survey out today puts that level of support at 81%, a few notches higher than previous polls.
An older survey conducted last May by the same polling group, the Public Religion Research Institute, pegged American Jewish support for same-sex marriage at 76%.
About half of all Americans support same-sex marriage.
“I was struck that the numbers were that high nationally, but I’m not shocked by them,” said Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, a gay and lesbian Jewish advocacy group, said of the new survey.
Marriages between gay and lesbian Jews are increasingly accepted by Jewish religious groups. Reform Judaism officially announced its support for gay marriage 1990s, and Conservative Judaism in 2006. No Orthodox groups accept same sex marriage, though the issue of homosexuality has been the subject of increased debate among the Modern Orthodox.
The Washington Post has a useful news analysis that looks at the New York State gay marriage decision and what it says about the state of liberalism. The headline says it all: “The rise of zombie liberalism: Half-dead, half-alive. “
The basic premise isn’t terribly new, but it’s too often forgotten: the liberalism of “Expanding civil rights and the retreat of discrimination on race, gender and now sexual orientation” is doing great. But “Income inequality has soared to levels not seen since the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties, anti-tax orthodoxy is ascendant on the right, the safety net is under attack, and labor unions are barely hanging on.”
If the country is becoming more liberal on accepting minority rights, why is the left having such a hard time making progress on its bread-and-butter issues of class and economics, which were once its central, animating concerns?
It’s a critical question. While focusing on the civil rights of minorities, liberals and Democrats have lost their voice on the economic rights of the majority. Minority rights are a noble cause, but majorities win elections.
The writer, Post national reporter Alec McGillis, walks through a variety of explanations without taking a stand. One candidate: Americans’ native self-reliance, which favors individual rights but recoils at communal responsibility. Another candidate: the identity politics of the 1970s, which led to a decline of class in the attention of liberals — as a result of which “they were just less attentive to issues of economics,” in the words of John Russo, co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University.
Sobering thoughts indeed, until you come to this conversation-stopper:
Of course, New Deal-style economic liberals note that polls show even greater public support for liberal planks such as raising taxes on the wealthy than for gay marriage, which recently crept above 50 percent in Gallup’s survey. According to Gallup, 59 percent of Americans say upper-income people pay too little in taxes, and 67 percent say corporations pay too little — which helps explain President Obama’s singling out of tax breaks for billionaires at his press conference this past week. The success of the liberal agenda, from this perspective, is less about where public opinion is than where the money is.
Gay rights proponents in New York had the backing of some very wealthy Wall Street donors who normally support Republican causes but who gave $1 million for the same-sex marriage push, motivated by their libertarian leanings and, in some cases, by the fact that members of their families are gay. When they are not cutting checks for gay marriage, these men are leading the way in opposing higher taxes on the very wealthy and fighting tougher financial regulations, with resources far beyond what organized labor can muster…
We could stop there. But McGillis gets into some identity-group politics that complicates the issue in some very interesting ways: