A marriage proposal: Jews should support same-sex unions

It is time for the California Supreme Court to do the right thing and rule against discrimination.

The seven justices on the court will hear oral arguments March 4 in the cases challenging the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage.

The Union for Reform Judaism, California NAACP, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, California Council of Churches, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, National Black Justice Coalition, and Progressive Jewish Alliance, the organization I work for, are some of the 250 religious and civil rights groups and leaders who have filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting same-sex couples seeking the right to marry.

What arguments might sway the court? What might persuade our friends and neighbors who oppose same-sex marriage? How do any of us change our hearts and minds about an emotional and deeply held belief? One approach is to reach people on a personal level. This can be done any number of ways. It can even be done at a wedding.

Recently I attended the interracial wedding of the daughter of a friend of mine (The bride is black, and the groom is white and Jewish). As the guests waited for the ceremony to begin, people began scanning the printed program. The back page of the program contained a description of where and how the marriage we were about to witness would have been illegal. It described the rationale for the laws barring interracial marriage, the biblical defense of the prohibition and the many social ills that would be created if the prohibition were lifted. It ended with an appeal for their guests to support the right for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, to have full and legal access to marriage.

The power of that message seemed to be felt by even those in the audience who hadn’t thought much about same-sex marriage. What a brave thing this young couple did, risking the hostility of some of their guests, but more important, asking them to reach beyond their comfort zone and reconsider a deeply held belief. What better time and place than a wedding, an interracial wedding at that, to appeal to friends and family to open their hearts and minds.

As people who have long known the sting of marginalization and inferior citizenship, and because our tradition demands that we “do that which is upright and good,” the Jewish community should oppose any efforts to discriminate against gay men and lesbians, whether by constitutional amendment or by the creation of second-class civil unions.

Jewish legal tradition is grounded in the notion that the law should be applied equally to all, friend and stranger alike. Same-sex couples are relegated to second-class citizenship when denied access to marriage, a fundamental institution of our society. Those who would stigmatize or criminalize gay and lesbian marriage are the heirs of those who once fought against the legalization of interracial marriage in this country.

The “Song of Songs” celebrates the union of lovers with

the phrase “I have found the one that my soul does love.” It is our heart, our spirit, that seeks and — if we are lucky — finds the one person we can love as we are instructed to love God: “with all your heart, with your whole spirit, with all your inner strength.”

We live in a time when we are called upon, individually and as a community, to open the doors for everyone to find their soulmate regardless of their color or sex orientation.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the California Supreme Court’s historic 1948 ruling that found it unconstitutional for the state to restrict access to marriage based on the race of the spouses. That ruling was the first of its kind in the nation’s history, and is now the law of the land across the country.

Let us hope that this California Supreme Court is as concerned with justice and human dignity as their predecessors on the court in 1948. And let us as a community stand up and be counted among those supporting laws that recognize that we are all created betzelm elohim, in the divine image, with equal claims on happiness and dignity.

Sara Bolder lives in Oakland and works for Progressive Jewish Alliance (www.pjalliance.org), which works for marriage equality in its Bringing the Orange Under the Huppah campaign.