Making Love Legal

Jewish Light Editorial

“Marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.”

— Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion upholding same-sex marriage

In a victory for human rights as historic and dramatic as Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down segregated public schools back in 1954, the United States Supreme Court last Friday, by a 5-4 vote, ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry anywhere in the United States. The decision, for which Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, had the immediate effect of striking down bans in Missouri and a dozen other states that still have laws banning same-sex marriage.

The timing of the ruling could not have been better for the LGBT community, which was in the midst of celebrating Pride Month, including PrideFest last weekend here in St. Louis (see related story on Page One).  Gay and lesbian couples already had the legal right to marry in some 37 states, and the Supreme Court ruling means that same-sex couples could formalize their loving relationship with a legal marriage in all 50 states.

The overwhelming majority of the Jewish community, nationally, statewide and locally, has been in favor of marriage equality for decades. There continues to be opposition within the Orthodox Jewish community based on a reading of the bans enumerated in the Book of Leviticus. Orthodox Jews and others within the Jewish community who do not support same-sex marriage of course have the right to their opinions, as do other religious groups. 

Other public figures in politics and religion have embraced the historic same-sex marriage ruling. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk sharply differed from most of his Republican colleagues in his response.  He said, “As Americans, we believe in human rights, civil rights and dignity. Today’s ruling recognizes our gay friends, family members and neighbors are deserving of the same right to commit to the one they love.”  Rev. Mike Kinman of the Christ Church Cathedral sounded the bells of his church, and said, “Not only do we celebrate, but we think this makes God dance.”

National congregational and rabbinical groups of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstruc-tionist movements — as well as numerous national Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and National Council of Jewish Women, among others — have applauded the court decision.  

To be sure, there were four justices who dissented, including Chief Justice John Roberts, who urged those who support the majority decision to “celebrate,” but added that the victory has “nothing to do with the Constitution.” Supporters of the ruling insist that it has everything to do with the Constitution, including the Equal Protection clause and the constitutional principle that states must give “full faith and credit” to the laws of other states. The decision is consistent with the slogan engraved on the facade of the Supreme Court building:  “Equal Justice Under Law.”

Jews, as a historically persecuted minority know what it is like to be marginalized and discriminated against.  The infamous Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935 by Nazi Germany, legally stripped Jews of all civil and political rights. During the Shoah, gays were a specific target of the Nazi death camps and were forced to wear a pink triangle to mark them for execution.

A majority of American Jews has been in the vanguard of the Civil Rights movement and have supported equal rights for the LGBT community since the dawn of the modern gay rights movement in 1969.

The movement towards last Friday’s landmark ruling moved at warp speed. As recently as the 2008 presidential election, candidates from both major parties said that they believed that marriage is between one man and one woman. Now the president and vice president of the United States support same-sex marriage.  

The federal Defense of Marriage Act was struck down as unconstitutional in a previous Supreme Court ruling.  The High Court could have ruled more narrowly, leaving the issue to be settled on a state-by-state basis.  By ruling that same-sex couples may marry in all 50 states, the Supreme Court has brought immediate relief to a major segment of our population and has empowered same-sex couples to affirm their love with binding, meaningful and now fully legal marriage vows.

This is a moment not only for the LGBT community to celebrate and savor, but for all American who favor equal rights for all of their fellow citizens.