Bay Area Jews celebrate Supreme Court marriage-equality ruling

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Major Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders in San Francisco and across the country celebrated the Supreme Court ruling Friday extending marriage rights to gays throughout the United States.

The American Jewish Committee tweeted: “For 109 years AJC has stood for liberty and human rights. Today is a happy day for that proud tradition ‪#LoveWins.” It was punctuated with a heart emoticon that splashed rainbow colors.

Same-sex marriage supporters celebrate outside the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015. (JTA/Getty Images/Alex Wong)

The contrast between an organization founded at the launch of the last century celebrating the rights embraced by Americans only at the launch of this one was emblematic of the glee with which much of the Jewish establishment reacted to the ruling.

The Anti-Defamation League, in its own tweet, left out its age (102) but also got in the hashtag, #LoveWins, and that funny little heart.

Thirteen Jewish groups, among them organizations representing the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative streams, were among the 25 joining the amicus brief the ADL filed in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The preeminence of Jewish groups among those backing the litigants was not a surprise. In recent decades, much of the Jewish establishment has embraced gay marriage as a right equivalent to the others it has advocated, including racial equality, religious freedoms and rights for women.

“The Jewish community has always been at the forefront in other community’s civil rights battles,” said San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener. “Jews participated in the founding of the NAACP; Jews went to the South in the ’60s to fight for civil rights; Jews have been incredibly supportive of the LGBT community. It makes me nuts when I hear of Jewish groups who are not supportive of full civil rights for LGBT people because the people who want LGBT people to disappear and want to kill us are the same people who want Jews to disappear and want to kill Jews.”

Wiener said that when a few LGBT advocates first started suing for marriage equality in the 1990s, he thought they were crazy to pursue such an unrealistic goal. He came out in the late 1980s at the age of 17, a time that he described as very dark for the gay community, which was in the throes of the AIDS crisis.

In recent years, he said, he has been proved wrong about his doubts that marriage equality would ever come to fruition.

San Francisco supervisor Scott Weiner

“The beautiful thing about the LGBT community, similar to the Jewish community, is no matter what society does for us, we come back stronger,” said Wiener, 45. “We don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and we don’t become invisible like they sometimes want us to be.”

“I’m in a state of awe…I really look at today’s marriage ruling as a testament to the social change that has happened,” said Joe Goldman, public affairs and civic engagement manager for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council. 

Goldman, 26, said he received support when he came out as gay at the age of 14, but still never believed that marriage equality would come so quickly.

“Many of the leading LGBT voices in this city are also members of the Jewish community, and I am very proud of that,” he said. “I think it’s a testament to LGBT Jews who have really built incredible community both in the LGBT realms as well as the Jewish realm. You can go to almost any shul in this city and at virtually every one you will find families headed by same-sex couples.”

Multiple Jewish groups, in their statements, cited the passage in Genesis that states humans were created “in the image of God,” which has for decades been used by Jewish civil rights groups to explain their activism.

“Jewish tradition reminds us that we were all created equally, b’tzelem Elohim, in the ‘image of God’ (Genesis 1:27), and also shows us that marriage is a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community,” the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement.

Groups also were looking to next steps in advancing LGBT rights, including in the workplace.

“You can now legally marry in all 50 states and put your wedding on your desk and be fired and have no recourse in the federal courts,” Rabbi Jonah Pesner, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, told JTA.

“We hope this will energize and inspire a bipartisan effort to end discrimination in the work place,” he said, specifying the “T” in LGBT — the transgendered. “People should not be discriminated against in the workplace because of expression of gender.”

Celebrants at San Francisco’s 2009 Pride Parade

Though all Californians have had the right to marry since Proposition 8 was overturned in 2013, local advocates say that nationwide marriage equality will remove legal uncertainty that arises when couples travel or move to different areas of the country. This is especially important when it comes to child custody and insurance, inheritance and tax benefits.

Also, Wiener added, the court decision is a strong symbol of acceptance for all.

“It’s the national validation that we are part of this community,” Wiener said.

The notion that the decision would propel a broader debate about LGBT rights concerned the Orthodox Union, the umbrella body of North American Orthodox congregations, which in a carefully worded statement noted that it adhered to the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, but also recognized “that no religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic.”

The OU, like other more conservative religious groups, was wary of new liberties that could infringe on its ability to hire officials who hew to their belief systems.

“Will the laws implementing today’s ruling and other expansions of civil rights for LGBT Americans contain appropriate accommodations and exemptions for institutions and individuals who abide by religious teachings that limit their ability to support same-sex relationships?” the group said in its statement.

The OU did not file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case. Agudath Israel of America did, opposing gay marriage.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a consensus-driven national policy group, recognized sensitivities on both sides.

“We call for sensitivity and civility in this debate, understanding that the vast majority on all sides are people of good will,” it said in a press statement. “Adjusting to change is not always easy or swift.”

Though the change may require adjustment for some, the tone in the Bay Area was largely ebullient as residents prepared for Pride Weekend.

Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco invited the community to bring their own shofars to Pride Shabbat Friday night at 7:30 p.m. for a celebratory sounding of Tekiah Gadolah.

Keshet, an LGBT Jewish organization with offices in Boston and San Francisco, created a celebratory e-card for people to send each other with a photo of the members of the Supreme Court with Diana Ross’s head superimposed over each of theirs.

“In 1966, the Supremes said you can’t hurry love,” the text reads. “In 2015, the Supremes said the wait is over.”