Saturday, May 12, 2012

Emor and Marriage Equality

Emor and Marriage Equality
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Temple Emanuel – Denver, CO
May 11, 2012

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, teaches about the restrictions placed on those who serve as priests in the Temple.  Priests are prohibited from marrying widows or divorcees, they cannot have any physical or mental deformities – their lives are regulated and controlled.

There are many responses that we can have when confronting this text – the first one that comes to mind is – “I’m glad I’m not a priest – and I’m glad that these laws no longer apply.”  The truth is – these laws had their origins in times that are very different than our own.  The concept that a person would be prohibited from serving in a sacred capacity because of physical deformity is completely foreign to us.  Ours is a society that prides itself in being open to all – of providing access and equal rights to everyone – right? 

Well – not everyone.  There are still people who are denied basic human rights and legal protection simply because of how they love and who they love…  And this is wrong.
As I’ve said on many occasions, as a Rabbi, I believe that the most important verses in the Bible can be found in Genesis 1:27.  There we find it written that God created Humanity in the Divine Image.
We are the image of God. 
We are all holy creatures. 

God created us. 

God loves us.

God gave us the ability to love and to hate – to kill and to create.  How we use these abilities is directly proportional to our awareness of the holiness that is implanted within us.

This is why it is essential for religious communities to become involved in the struggle for LGBT rights.  For if we stand idly by and do nothing when basic human rights are denied: 

·        The right to legal protection for families
·        The right to job security. 
·        The right to housing;
·        The right to live free from fear. 
·        The right to ensure that we can carry out the wishes of our spouses and partners when they become incapacitated;
      ·        The right to visit our loved ones when they are in the hospital;
·        the right to insurance;
·        and so many others…..

Then we are denying the holiness implanted not only within our GLBT brothers and sisters – but within ourselves as well.

I’m sure that you are all aware of recent events surround the issue of Civil Unions and Gay marriage – here in our legislature and in other states around the country.  Two days ago, President Obama stated his support for Gay Marriage.  This came on the heels of voters in North Carolina who, on Tuesday approved Amendment One, a fiercely debated and highly restrictive amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as the legal union of a man and a woman is very upsetting.

The North Carolina amendment not only outlaws same-sex marriage — already illegal in the state — but bans civil unions and domestic partnerships for gay or straight couples. Family law experts say it will threaten domestic partnership health benefits for local government workers and strip unmarried couples, both gay and straight, of their rights to make financial or emergency medical decisions for an incapacitated partner.

And here in our own State of Colorado:   the leadership of our State Legislature felt it necessary to derail a bill that would allow citizens to enter into a Domestic partnership that would provide them basic legal protections – I find this to be cruel, inhumane and, frankly, immoral.  I am proud of Governor Hickenlooper for calling a special legislative session to address this bill and others that were also killed by those who were afraid of the consequences of a vote.

My friends, as Jews, I believe that we have a moral obligation to support those in our society who are asking to be granted the ability to express their love and to receive the same basic rights as other couples.

This is not about “supporting” homosexuality.  The bill is very clear in its language that no one needs to change their views on marriage, love or relationships.  It merely states that every human being has the right to love another human being – and to receive the same benefits as those who are legally married.
Our state constitution defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.  That is law.  The current bill will not change that.  All that it will do is grant basic rights to couples who want nothing more than the ability to share their lives together.

The people who will benefit if this bill is passed are not zealots or radicals – they are our friends, our relatives, our teachers, our doctors and lawyers and productive, healthy members of our society – in other words – they are you and me.
I recently posted a photo on my Facebook page (by the way – feel free to “friend” me if you haven’t done so already…),  This photo was of a beautiful family – Rhonda, Jessica and their daughter, Emily.  Rhonda and Jessica were the first same-sex couple at whose wedding I officiated.  Emily is a happy, healthy, beautiful and intelligent young woman who wrote the following to her parents in anticipation of Mothers’ day: 

 "Thank you guys for being the best moms anyone could ever have. You've given me the opportunities that many people never have, and the freedom to excel and be who I am. Thank you for helping me turn into the person I am today, and I see my actions, my words, and myself in both of you. I hope you have an amazing day and relax a little, because you both deserve it! I'm sorry if I don't always act like it, but I appreciate you guys more than anyone else on this earth. A daughter's love for her mother is the most unique and amazing feeling ever. I love you both so so much."

For those who are afraid that domestic partnerships will somehow impact the sanctity of Traditional marriage – all I have to say is how will two people who love one another – who want nothing more than to raise their families in loving homes – in JEWISH homes – where shared values are discussed and God’s presence is felt in the sanctity of consecrated commitment – how will these individuals impact the sanctity of marriage more than those who mock marriage through serial divorce, the exploitation of sexuality and love that we see reflected in the mass media and on the internet?

There is a very good chance that representative McNulty – the current speak of the House, will try to use other legislative means to ensure that the Civil Unions Bill will not come to a vote.  He can do this by shifting it to another committee that will prevent it from being brought forward.  We  need to let him know that this is wrong.  We need to let our voices be heard.  Please contact him and let him know your concern.  His phone number is:  (303)866-2346.  His email is

We have no more business legislating who is fit to love and how they express that love in sacred commitment - than we have the right to state that those who possess a physical deformity are incapable of holding sacred office.  The tide has shifted.  We need to let our legislators know that we, as people of faith, want to see equality in marriage.

In addition, I am proud that Temple Emanuel is joining with several other synagogues in the Denver area to march on June 17, in the annual pridefest parade – alongside Keshet – an organization that supports Jewish GLBT issues.  I hope that you will be able to join with me as we march together in solidarity.  You will be hearing more about this in days and weeks to come.

Shabbat Shalom.