Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Posts Tagged ‘respect’

California Supreme Court Gets One Right

Posted by rabbiart on May 17, 2008

In 1954 – or thereabouts – the songwriter Sammy Cahn wrote these lyrics for Frank Sinatra:

Love and marriage, love and marriage
They Go together like a horse and carriage
This I tell you brother
You can’t have one without the other

Love and marriage, love and marriage
It’s an institute you can’t disparage
Ask the local gentry
And they will say it’s elementary

Growing up in the sheltered atmosphere of 1950s white suburbia, these lyrics would have made perfect sense to me. Love and marriage equalled Mom and Dad. If I had known them then, it equalled Uncle Eddy and Aunt Jean, who held hands their entire married life. I think I would have understood the lyrics even though I was only five years old when Sinatra introduced the song to families gathered in the living room to watch a television production of Our Town on the big old console television. You know, the one with a knob on it that you used to change channels, even though there weren’t that many channels to choose from. And you actually had to get up out of your chair and walk across the room to do it. – Oh, the horror. – (Uphill, both ways, and in the midwest, through the snow.)

My how the world has changed!

Thursday afternoon, actually while I had Sinatra playing over the Internet, I received a telephone call from Sue Nowicki of the Modesto Bee. She was calling local religious and civic leaders to gather reactions to the California Supreme Court decision that declared it unconstitutional to limit “marriage” to opposite-sex couples. I have to say that my quote in the Bee was not taken out of context, and is pretty much word for word what I said to Sue.

“I haven’t yet read the ruling, but anytime a society moves in widening the scope of civil rights to more people, I think it’s highly likely to be a good thing”.

The court acknowledged that California law affords a domestic partnership “virtually all of the same substantive legal benefits and privileges, and imposes upon the couple virtually all of the same legal obligations and duties, that California law affords to and imposes upon a married couple.” It then went on to say “The question we must address is whether, under these circumstances, the failure to designate the official relationshp of same-sex couples as marriage violates the California Constitution”

“One of the core elements of the right to establish an officially recognized family that is embodied in the California constitutional right to marry is a couple’s right to have their family relationship accorded dignity and respect equal to that accorded other officially recognized families, and assigning a different designation for the family relationship of same-sex couples while reserving the historic designation of “marriage” exclusively for opposite-sex couples poses at least a serious risk of denying the family relationship of same-sex couples with equal dignity and respect.

Let’s look at some of the reasons given for opposing the expansion of the definition of marriage; the will of the people, the threat to the institution of marriage, and violation of established religious tradition. The court itself addressed two of the three. (1) The will of the people does not always govern; we used to have laws forbidding inter-racial marriage, requiring separate entrances and even segregated drinking fountains. Simply because a majority of people believe something does not make that belief correct or even desirable. (2) I don’t see how same sex marriage threatens the institution of opposite-sex marriage itself. It seems like there is a whole class of people saying “we think so much of the institution of marriage that we want to partake of it.” How is that a threat?. As the court said in its decision “permitting same-sex couples access to the designation of marriage will not deprive opposite-sex couples of any rights and will not alter the legal framework of the institution of marriage, because same-sex couples who choose to marry will be subject to the same obligations and duties that currently are imposed on married opposite-sex couples.”

Finally, what about the religious tradition of marriage as between one man and one woman? We often hear the argument advanced “the Bible says that marriage is between one man and one woman.” Whose Bible? Which version? The Tanakh? The Christian Old and New Testaments, the Koran? The Bhagavad-Vita? As a society, do we want to go down the road of trying to impose our religious beliefs on people who don’t share them? That never really works out very well.

One of the quotes in the Modesto Bee reads like this: “’Clearly it’s against a biblical understanding of marriage. Our laws don’t reflect God’s standard for us and God’s definition of marriage. It will be interesting to see if our state will decide (in November) to uphold a biblical definition — do we believe in what God says or do we make up a new definition?’”

In point of fact, the Jewish bible does not define marriage; it merely describes various marriages while telling the story of our people. There is our founding patriarch Abraham – he had one wife and one concubine. His son Isaac fits the one and one model, but his grandson Jacob had two wives and two concubines. If anything, we find passages in the Torah that accept polygamy and proceed to regulate it.
In biblical times, polygamy was permitted. The Bible, in tolerating polygamy, gives evidence that the practice had long been an accepted social institution when these laws were written down. In the patriarchal age polygamy is regarded as an unquestioned custom. While the Bible gives a reason for the action of Abraham in taking Hagar for an additional wife and, in the case of Jacob, for having Rachel as a wife besides Leah, it only proves that polygamy as well as concubinage, with which it was always associated, was among the mores of the ancient Hebrew people (Gen. 16:1-4; 29:23-28). The same attitude is revealed in the episode of Abimelech and Sarah (Gen. 20:1- l3).
Polygamy was such a well established part of the social system that Mosaic law is not even critical of it. We find only certain regulations with respect to it; as, for example, if a man takes a second wife the economic position of the first wife and of the children she bore must be secure; and, in the case of inheritance, no child of a subsequent marriage is to be preferred over a child from the first wife. Other regulations were that the high priest could have only one wife and that a king in Israel should not have too many wives (Lev. 21:13; Deut. 17:17; Ex. 21:10). The last injunction, however, was of no effect. David had seven wives before he began to reign in Jerusalem, and an extraordinary number of wives and concubines has been attributed to Solomon (II Sam 3:2- 5, 14; 5:13). In connection with David, the prophet Nathan did not denounce the king for adding Uriah’s wife to those he already had but for the means he employed to secure her (II Sam. 12:7-15).

(Preceding two paragraphs quoted from

Not until the 11th century did Rabbenu Gershom issue his thousand year ban against polygamy. If it was against our Bible, no ban would have been necessary.

Once you get past the legalese, the judicial syntax, the arguments based on religious tradition, the issue boils down to precisely this; dignity and respect. It’s not that there is a serious risk – as the court said- of denying members of a same sex relationship the same dignity and respect afforded to opposite sex relationships. It’s exactly what the people opposing this decision want; to deny dignity and respect to same sex relationships; to make their participants, in the words of the court, “second-class citizens.” If we believe that all of us are made in the image of G-d, and if we wish to do G-d’s will on earth, then should we not respect and honor each and every human being who G-d has made. And respect the choices that each person makes. What would be the harm in that? How does that threaten the marital institution? As my favorite quote from the Bee reads
‘There’s a lot of people with a lot of strong emotions, but my contention is that if you’re not in favor of same-sex marriage, you shouldn’t have one’
— Marian Martino of Modesto, who popped the question to her partner of 28 years minutes after she heard about the court ruling
Do all people love, and want to be loved? I hope so. I don’t know what Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen were thinking when they wrote these last two verses, but the sentiments expressed apply to anyone and everyone who is now, has ever been, or will be in love with another of G-d’s human creatures.

Try, try, try to separate them
It’s an illusion
Try, try, try, and you will only come
To this conclusion

Love and marriage, love and marriage
They go together like the horse and carriage
Dad was told by mother
You can’t have one, you can’t have none, you can’t have one without the other!

No Sir!

The Supreme Court got this one right.

Posted in Social Justice | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »