Gay Marriage Battle Lost

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

Our interest is in the cultural atmosphere. As Orthodox Jews, we believe that homosexuality is not the norm. While we do not want to legislate what people do in their bedrooms and we certainly oppose discrimination against any minority, we believe that American culture should value heterosexuality as a norm and consider homosexual activity to be an aberration.

In that sense, attempting to influence legislation now is a belated and ineffective measure. The cultural battle has been fought and lost. Generally, Orthodox Jews played no role in that debate, mainly because we remained isolated in our own communities and uninvolved with the larger cultural battle. We gave up pretty much without a fight. In our attempts to protect our communities from the American culture at large, we detached from it and refrained from trying to change it.

Maybe that was for the best and we would have failed anyway. Regardless, the cultural battle is done. We are coming to the plate after the game is over. Do we really think that we can turn back the clock on this issue?

A similar example of a cultural change is in the halakhic issue of whether a rabbi may perform a wedding ceremony for a non-religious couple. Since the couple will not observe the laws of family purity, the rabbi is facilitating these violations by wedding them. This was a major issue 100 years ago and I even recall a book published about 15 years ago in Israel arguing that rabbis may not perform weddings for secular Jews. However, the mainstream view is that now that pre-marital relations is sadly a standard practice, the actual wedding service does not facilitate any violations because they occur regardless.

SONEI POSTS: It was rolled back in California. Many Americans are against it. The fact that you live in one of the most liberal parts of America may be coloring your thoughts on it, making you think that the support for it is wider and deeper than it actually is. Americans are much more religious than Europeans.

Additionally, when we are under attack for allegedly being decadent, corrupt, and G-dless by the Islamic world, it is sheer foolishness to to do such a thing.

There is a group, the National Council for Marriage, that has stepped in in a big way, to oppose it. And Rev. Rueben Diaz had a rally recently with circa 30,000 devout Christians in Manhattan opposing it outside the Governor’s office. So it’s not like ‘everybody else’ is for it.

We should stop using euphemisms they promote, like ‘gay’, that disguise and sugar coat what they are about. Once people adopt their terminology and allow them to frame the issues and set the agenda, we are at a great disadvantage. Their phony ‘marriage equality’ bill is like a ‘currency equality’ bill, demanding that counterfeit money be accorded the same respect as legal tender and should be treated as such.

What political costs are you afraid of? Is this not a free country?

ANON POSTS: Why are you so sure American culture will keep going in the same direction? Gay marriage is still unrecognized and unpopular in 40-something states, and in the vast majority it probably never will (some Jews even live in many of those states!). Where gay marriage has been made legal it has usually been by the courts and opposed by other branches of government. What about all the Catholics in NYC and conservatives in upstate NY? Gay marriage is not inevitable.

Even if the majority ends up for gay marriage and it’s reflected in the laws, there will always be a sizable minority who still oppose it. Maybe they’ll be marginalized and shunned by polite society (many already are). But so are defenders of Israel, and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t answer Israel’s critics. Of course we have to choose our battles. But you have to admit, if the whole society is dead-set on gay marriage, and then because of that the vast majority of secular Jews feel passionately about it, then that makes them much less likely to ever consider Orthodox Judaism. If a more moderate attitude is more prevalent in society this can make outreach to the secular and liberal more fruitful.

I agree people shouldn’t be loud and accusatory about it. But people need to know there are other ways to look at this issue. It can be done in a sensitive and compassionate and analytical way, without culture-war hysteria. For example, I would say there are three main ways of looking at the issue. Conservative — no civil unions, no marriage. Liberal — civil unions but no marriage. Radical — marriage only ("equality"). If we articulate the reasons why we (along with Barack Obama) are for the liberal option, and why this is better, then we may make a useful contribution to the overall debate and actually help people who already felt similarly to better articulate their position. Now, people are afraid to make this kind of argument because of the virulence of the radicals. But why should the Orthodox be afraid — they’ve never worried about the approval of gay activists and left-wing ideologues.

NACHUM LAMM POSTS: I’m proud to say I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life.

I’m particulary distressed that Orthodox groups are often quite muted on issues like these. Probably for the same two reasons I cited above. (Charedim like the Agudah don’t care and don’t want to offend anyone, and MO like the OU are full of FDR Democrats and genuine liberals, including one very prominent one.)

TALMID POSTS: When Gil says that the cultural battle is lost, I think he means that although there is still significant opposition to gay marriage and even to gay activity, the pendulum has swung and it isn’t coming back any time soon. If you were to take a poll of people under the age of 25 in this country you would find that the overwhelming majority of them support gay rights, gay marriage etc. The future does not look bright from a torah perspective.

RABBI GIL STUDENT POSTS: Again, there is a difference between the cultural battle and the legal battle. The cultural battle is over. I don’t see why we care about the legal battle.

The political costs are heavy. I heard (but have not confirmed) that the mayor was recently humiliated at a major Jewish fundraising event over this issue. That’s a political cost because right now we have other pressing issues on which we need local and state government assistance.

Nachum, I believe that Jews should try to influence society. But let’s focus on today’s issues and not those of twenty years ago. Are you interested in starting a campaign against pre-marital sex in America?

NACHUM LAMM POSTS: Of course, there are ways to do things. I serve on the local civic association, and we stopped having meetings in a local yeshiva because people were coming to yell about gay marriage. There’s a time and a place and a method.

FRED EMAILS: Gil is right.  Regarding gay marriage, the culture war is lost.  The legal war will probably be lost in another 20 years.  It will happen like this:

In the next 15 years, another two dozen states will legalize gay marriage.  5 years thereafter, another dozen will legalize gay marriage, and finally the Supreme Court will say that banning gay marriage offends the equal protection clause.

By that time, most opponents to gay marriage will be older than 50.

On another note, Luke, now that Walter Cronkite has passed away, perhaps your true nitch in journalism has now opened up owing to a vacancy.  Luke Ford–the most trusted man in American journalism.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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