Weddings are good for the Jewish soul

San Francisco this week put a human face on the hot political issue of gay marriage.

Television screens throughout the world showed the faces of two mothers wheeling a baby carriage into City Hall. Next to them were two fathers each carrying infants, one baby held in a sling on his father’s chest. There were also couples in tuxedos and others wearing wedding veils, all exuding joy.

Then there was the first couple to wed, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, 79 and 83 respectively, who have been together 51 years; they never thought they would see the day that their love for each other would be legally recognized.

Those pictures were not what Middle America expected to see. The faces of those couples waiting in line looked too much like their own and that of their neighbors, not like the distorted picture of gays that TV and films broadcast all too often.

Among those in line for a marriage license this past week were at least three local rabbis and their life partners. All had already been blessed in religious ceremonies, but like everyone else there, they wanted their union blessed by the civil authorities.

It’s time for us to view marriage as a civil right, similar to the right to vote, which was also denied to minorities for too long.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the city was unfairly — and probably illegally — discriminating against gays and lesbians by denying them a marriage license. Newsom’s courageous act will undoubtedly be heralded when the history of the struggle for gay rights is chronicled.

He acted at a time when the courts in various states were wrestling with the legal argument of discrimination, and when President Bush was threatening to begin work on a constitutional amendment that would recognize heterosexual marriages only — thus discriminating against gays.

But Newsom put the legal arguments to an even greater test, vaulting the issue more forcefully into this year’s political campaign.

It is now assured that a presidential candidate cannot dodge this issue. Even if conservative groups use the courts to block the issuing of such marriage licenses in San Francisco, this case or another will end up before the Supreme Court in the near future.

But this is not just a legal or political issue. It’s a humanitarian issue.

Rabbi Camille Angel, spiritual leader of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, who married her partner of seven years, Karen Segal, on Friday, Feb. 13, said, “Long-term committed, loving relationships are good for families, good for the Jewish community and good for the soul.”

As Jews, we can understand all too well the issue of discrimination. Let’s not be a party to it.