It is no coincidence that a strong Jewish presence helped strike down the ban on gay marriage in Pennsylvania.
The first couple to obtain a marriage license at Philadelphia’s City Hall on Tuesday was Jewish. One of the civilians issuing the licenses was the Jewish publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News. And the lead Jewish attorney in the case challenging the state law banning same-sex marriage addressed the celebratory rally at City Hall, as did at least one rabbi.
While Jews are clearly not the only ones active in promoting the civil rights of the LGBTQ community, their activism has helped spur progress every step of the way.
“It is, by any measure, as important as any other civil rights case pending anywhere,” Mark Aronchick, one of the lead attorneys on Whitewood v. Corbett, said when he filed the federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state ban last July.
“We are going to show everyone that there is nothing to fear about the freedom to marry, and there is everything to celebrate,” said Aronchick, who has long been involved in Jewish causes.
Now we all should be joining him to celebrate Tuesday’s decision by U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III finding Pennsylvania’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The ruling makes Pennsylvania the 19th state where gay marriage is allowed, a movement that has gained momentum since the Supreme Court ruled last June that legally married same-sex couples are eligible for federal benefits.
It is time to stop using the issue of same-sex marriage as a political and legal football. Those who oppose such marriages for moral or religious reasons have every right to do so. But they don’t have the right to deny the basic civil rights that too many have been deprived of over the years.
The speed with which public opinion has turned on this issue is astounding, including in the Jewish community. Although some Jewish groups and individuals have been out front for years, the established Jewish community has taken longer to embrace the LGBTQ community. In the past few months alone, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia launched Jewish Pride, and the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia created a consortium of eight organizations committed to taking steps to create a more welcoming community.
It was once thought that Pennsylvania would be one of the last states to make same-sex marriage legal. Although it is not yet clear whether Gov. Tom Corbett will appeal the decision, one thing is certain: There is no turning back.
As Rabbi Neil Cooper put it, acknowledging that his own views have shifted: “The world has changed. I think it’s really a great thing that people have the right to define the kind of loving relationship that they want to be in.” Amen to that.