Election was step in wrong direction for GLBT rights

BY RABBI SUSAN TALVE

On Nov. 4, while the U.S. broke through a major historical barrier by electing an African-American president, we further codified discrimination against individuals and families who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage in California, where 18,000 same-sex couples have already married since last spring.

Florida and Arizona also passed anti-same sex marriage ballot initiatives. And Arkansas passed a tragically misguided law banning unmarried couples — including same-sex couples who cannot legally marry — from adopting or providing foster care to any of the thousands of Arkansas children in need of a permanent home.

ADVERTISEMENT

Our narrow definition of marriage causes deep pain for many committed couples. However, Missouri is far from dealing with marriage equality.

Our community still denies care, protection, and basic human rights to our fellow citizens. I witness fear, shame, and suffering as our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) friends and their families are denied basic protections under the law.

Youth across our state lack adequate protection against bullying in school, whether they are being bullied for being Jewish or for being gay.

I have seen spouses together in committed loving relationships for more than half their lives denied the ability to make end of life decisions for their loved one. In the state of Missouri a person can legally be denied housing, fired from their job, and denied parental rights because of who they are. Not providing our GLBT citizens the same protections granted to other citizens is hateful and wrong.

We Jews know better than to sit idly by when we witness injustice. We know that denying human rights to some always leads to compromised rights for others who are also vulnerable. Whatever we believe individually about homosexuality and same sex marriage, we are guided by the general principle of the Torah that each of us is created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God. This teaching has inspired the overall Jewish commitment to civil and human rights, demanding that we treat each other with dignity and respect.

This teaching compels each of us to ask what suffering is growing, what ignorance is persisting, because we remain silent.

I know that there are some in our Jewish community who believe that homosexuality is one of the many forbidden sexual unions (arayot). I agree that there are such unions but this is not one of them.

Two responsible loving adults honoring their nature is a blessing. Today we understand that both homosexuality and heterosexuality are likely determined by how we are wired. No amount of therapy or prayer can help one change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Just ask someone who has tried.

And yes, you do know someone who is gay and has gone through agonizing years of hiding, shame and self-loathing because some in their beloved community view their very nature as an abomination. At least one in 10 of us is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

I will never forget the first PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting I was invited to speak at when I first came to St. Louis almost 28 years ago. After I spoke, a woman stood with tears in her eyes and said, “Maybe if you had been my son’s rabbi he would not have killed himself.”

I tell the story not to suggest that there are not many compassionate souls in our community who embrace our LGBT sisters and brothers and families, but to underscore the seriousness and depth of discrimination still experienced in our society.

We are all called to right this wrong.

We need legislation in Missouri to protect the rights of individuals and families who face discrimination because of who they are. No person should have to fear losing their job, being denied housing, or being bullied at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And someday, perhaps, our state will finally offer the blessing of marriage to same sex couples. Now, when I officiate at gay and lesbian weddings in Missouri, I break the law by solemnizing a marriage without a license.

Legally, I risk going to jail. But I believe that each time I do have the privilege of officiating at one of these weddings, the simcha, the joy of all who participate brings us a little closer to a time when all human beings will be treated with dignity, compassion and love.

Rabbi Susan Talve serves Central Reform Congregation.