By Avital Kessler-Godin
Conservative Judaism has always been a big part of my life. I grew up in an observant, tight-knit and active Conservative Jewish community that has, for as long as I can remember, been committed to social justice and the belief that everyone is equal.
Studies have shown that of the different religious groups in the United States, Jews have some of the highest levels of support for non-discrimination laws for LGBTQ+ people, and that we must continue to modernize our laws. We have found a way to adapt and create change for the betterment of society and for the sake of each individual.
In 2006, the Conservative movement produced two contradictory opinions on LGBTQ+ relationships and roles in Jewish practices; one that would allow rabbis and cantor who are gay and lesbian to be ordained and accept commitment ceremonies, and one that rejected gay relationships. Ultimately, the movement left it to individual Conservative rabbis to choose which opinion to adopt. Now, gay marriage is widely accepted in Conservative communities.
No one likes excuses, especially when they come from elected officials who have an obligation to ensure that everyone is treated equally under the law.
There is no more time to waste. Years ago was the time to pass a bill such as the Equality Act, which ensures equal protection under the law for all LGBTQ+ people in all 50 states. Yet, in 2021, the fate of the bill is in the hands of an evenly split Senate between Democrats and Republicans. The Equality Act would bar discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in issues regarding housing, loans, access to public accommodations and more at the federal level. With majority support in every state, senators have an obligation to their constituents to fairly represent them and advocate for their needs — including Sen. Pat Toomey.
Seventy-one percent of white Catholics are in favor of LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections, according to a study done by the Public Religion Research Institute, which aligns with the overall increase in support for LGBTQ+ rights. Over the years there has been an increasing amount of support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, with at least 68% of the Pennsylvania population in support as well, but not enough concrete change to reflect that.
This Congress has the power to change that. After the House voted in late February to pass the legislation with bipartisan support, 224 to 206, all eyes are on the Senate to pass this necessary legislation that will ensure equality and a better future for all. While the legislative responsibilities fall onto the Senate, the Jewish people must continue to actively advocate for and support nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTQ+ people. To be a proponent of the Equality Act and other nondiscrimination legislation is at the root of Jewish values.
When it feels as if I have little to no control over the outcome of legislative pieces, I think back to the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, and the Senate special election in Georgia, and all of the phone calls that people made to get people registered to vote, to get people to take action. Call your senators. Urge them to end the filibuster so that the Equality Act can be passed. If enough people called Toomey to express their support for this crucial piece of legislation, and implore him to join them, his vote could be influenced.
The LGBTQ+ community and its allies are counting on Toomey to be an advocate for all of the people of Pennsylvania. This is his chance to make a lasting difference in our society, one that will benefit millions of people across the country for years to come.
This change will not happen if we continue to let our religious differences come between us and a more just future. I am not asking you to completely change your religious beliefs; I am asking that you take the time to think about your values guided by your religion, to think about how old those laws or commandments are and if they can be adapted to our modern society, and to think about the differences between religion, politics and equal rights. Those are three separate things and should not be confused for each other.
Supporting the Equality Act aligns with my religious beliefs and values that my family and community fostered in me. I hope it does for you, too. l
Avital Kessler-Godin is a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey.