JCRC opposes Knight Initiative, fears scapegoating

Despite the diversity of its membership, which ranges from Orthodox to Reform, from politically conservative to progressive, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council has overwhelmingly approved a statement opposing Proposition 22, the Limits on Marriage Initiative.

"Two months ago, I wouldn't have predicted the groundswell of feeling that we take a position and that the sentiment would run this way," Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the JCRC, which represents 80 Bay Area synagogues and organizations.

"Support for this resolution — and against the initiative — cut across all lines."

Proposition 22, also called the Knight Initiative, is sponsored by the conservative state Sen. Pete Knight (R-Palmdale). It states that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Said Kahn, "Our question was, can we craft a statement that makes a meaningful contribution to the debate and at the same time acknowledges the diversity within the Jewish community? On the surface, Proposition 22 has very benign language but the potential for a great impact, increasing discrimination against gays and lesbians."

In the end, the JCRC took no position on gay marriage. Instead, the statement, passed Feb. 8, focuses on discrimination that could be triggered by the passage of the initiative.

A task force representing a broad spectrum of belief crafted a statement that was "enthusiastically embraced" by a vote of 44-1, with four members abstaining, Kahn said.

Those who participated were stunned by the show of support.

"We don't issue a statement unless 75 percent of our members support it," said Michael Futterman, who chaired the JCRC task force. "We consider 75 percent a consensus. I've never seen such a resounding consensus as this."

In its preamble, the resolution says the initiative "purports to focus solely on the institution of marriage. We believe, however, that its main impact would be to perpetuate discrimination against gay men and lesbians in areas ranging from inheritance rights to hospital visits. Our consensus to oppose the initiative stems from our community's historic opposition to discrimination and our concern that its passage could create a climate of increased hostility toward gay men and lesbians."

It goes on to note that such challenges have already been filed in states where similar initiatives have been passed.

"One man told me that as an Orthodox Jew he does not support the concept of same-sex marriage but was alarmed by the potential for discrimination after reading the text" of the initiative, Futterman said.

Those who abstained did so "for reasons unrelated to same-sex marriage," Futterman said. "A couple of judges felt it would be inappropriate for them to express an opinion on an issue that may come before them in the courts."

The resolution stresses that the state "must have no role in determining what constitutes a religious marriage."

A draft of it had been sent to the synagogues and organizations that are members of the JCRC, and was discussed within each of its five Bay Area regional offices.

The JCRC joins many Jewish organizations, congregations and community leaders taking an active role in opposing the initiative.

John Goldman, of the Goldman Insurance Corp., and Kathy Levinson, president and CEO of E*TRADE, have been out in front in combating the proposition.

Other opponents include the National Council of Jewish Women, the American Jewish Congress, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Keddem Congregation in Palo Alto, the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Pacific Central West Council.

Rabbi Pamela Frydman Baugh of Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco has been a vocal opponent, hosting a special service to speak about the initiative last weekend. Others similarly involved include Rabbis George D. Gittleman of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa, Jonathan P. Slater of Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa, Eric Weiss of Temple Ruach Ami in San Francisco. In addition, two rabbis announced their opposition to the initiative as individuals: Allen Bennett, who is spiritual leader of Temple Israel in Alameda, and Zari Weiss, who is the East Bay community rabbi.

Opponents also include Rabbi Mona Alfi of Congregation B'nai Israel, Sacramento and Rabbi Matthew Freidman, Congregation Beth Shalom in Carmichael. Both those congregations suffered extensive damage in a June arson spree that has been labeled a hate crime.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.