This year, as we celebrated Passover and our season of liberation, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases that echo our cries of freedom. The cases involving California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act are both pivotal in the journey toward full inclusion.
Since we were with family in Washington, D.C., we went by the court to witness history in the making. I was deeply moved to see those standing on the steps of the Supreme Court fighting for freedom just hours after we sat around the table and declared, “In every generation, each person is to see themselves as if we went forth from Egypt.”
How confused my children were to learn that two people who are in love can’t always spend their lives together as a legally recognized couple. They don’t see the parents of their friends any differently than they see my wife and I and the love that we share. I had no way of explaining discrimination to them. I can only hope this history will not be the future they will see.
I know that these cases heard by the court will not likely make gay and lesbian marriage legal in all 50 states any day soon. But they could bring greater equality for gay and lesbian married couples. As a rabbi, I believe that we need to recognize the sanctity in same-sex marriages and monogamous relationships in the strongest possible way.
The key issue in the sanctity of a relationship is a commitment to exclusivity and to elevating the relationship to a state of kedusha, holiness. When two individuals arrive at that point in their relationship when they have felt the bonds of love, they deserve a place under the chupah in the presence of a rabbi and in the presence of community to celebrate that love.
The joy they share will, we hope, help them to build their home together as a place of exclusivity, of ahava v’achva, shalom v’reut: love and harmony, peace and companionship.
As Jews, we have known discrimination and hatred. How can we do anything but open our hearts and minds to help others who seek true freedom?
As a country, we still have a long way to go toward getting our laws to reflect the principle that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unjust and unfair. We are ahead of many other countries in the world where gays and lesbians fear for their lives due to legal regimes and social environments in which homosexuality is criminalized and demonized.
But it’s only been only about 10 years since the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated state and federal laws that purported to make homosexual behavior a crime. And it’s only been one year since the discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” regime in the U.S. military was ended.
It is time to take up the debate in Pennsylvania, where gay marriage is explicitly banned in the state Constitution and people are denied basic rights because of sexual orientation. It is unacceptable to continue to ignore the issue here because of the prevailing sentiment that Pennsylvania will never make any change.
On Nov. 7, 2012, inspired by the LGBT victories in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota, I joined with Alex Kress, a first-year Reform movement rabbinical student, to launch a grass-roots movement to make our voices heard in Pennsylvania.
Through our Facebook page, Marriage Equality in PA — NOW! (facebook.com/MarriageEqualityPA), we have established a community in which we share our personal stories and build support for marriage equality.
Through our small effort, I have heard many moving stories. The most moving came from the parents of a child who came out in high school, and was rejected by their Jewish community. They simply came to my office and thanked us for creating a space where their child and all children could be themselves and be free.
Please join the movement for change!
Rabbi Peter Rigler serves as the rabbi of Temple Sholom in Broomall. He served for seven years as associate rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park.