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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Jewish Americans Embrace Supreme Court Rulings on Marriage Equality

Let me start with a very simple statistic about the degree of support marriage equality enjoys within the Jewish American community:

Most Jewish communal leaders celebrated the landmark Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. The Jewish community, with 81% of support for gay marriage according to public opinion polls, is the constituency most supportive of marriage equality, second only to the LGBT community in its backing of the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.

By comparison, among the population as a whole, marriage equality is enjoys anywhere from plurality to a small majority in support.  Given this 81% figure, it should come as no surprise that much of institutional Judaism (to the extent it exists) in the United States has been supportive of the effort for equality.  Many such organizations filed amicus briefs in support of marriage equality before the DOMA and Prop 8 cases were heard and now that the cases have been decided have reiterated their support.

The Anti-Defamation League, for example, tweeted this in the aftermath of the Court’s twin rulings:

Today’s Supreme Court rulings are an important step towards #equal rights for all. #ADL

#DOMA #Prop8

This came after it had already filed a brief in favor of marriage equality before the cases were heard by the Supreme Court.  It also said the following:

We have long believed that that the principle of equal treatment under federal law means equal treatment for all.  The Court’s landmark decision in Windsor affirms the principle that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to all of the federal rights, protections and benefits of civil marriage.  

The Court’s second decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry is good news for same-sex couples in California.  We welcome that result and will continue to work towards the day when all states in the nation will allow civil marriage for same-sex couples. In this 100th anniversary year, we rededicate ourselves to ensuring, in the words of our founding Charter, “justice and fair treatment for all.”

It was similar to statements that came from the Reform movement:

There is no more central tenet to our faith than the notion that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, and, as such, entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity. Many faith traditions, including Reform Judaism, celebrate and sanctify same-sex marriages. Thanks to the Court’s decision, the federal government will now recognize these marriages as well, while still respecting the rights and views of those faith traditions that choose not to sanctify such marriages.

and the Conservative movement (to which I adhere):

Judaism views marriage as a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community. Our Movement recognizes and celebrates marriages, whether between partners of the same sex or the opposite sex. We therefore celebrate today’s decisions on gay marriage by the Supreme Court.

The American Jewish Committee’s general counsel stated:

One of the self-evident truths of the American experiment is that all persons are created equal. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments incorporate that aspiration into fundamental law: they guarantee all Americans the equal protection of the laws as of right. That promised equality is surely denied when literally thousands of laws treat some Americans differently because of whom they love.

This belief in individual human dignity, a concept which is threaded throughout Justice Kennedy’s opinion in United States v. Windsor, is long established in Jewish thought.  Steven Weiss writes:

Kevod habriyot is first mentioned in the Mishnaic tractate Avot, often referred to as “Ethics of the Fathers.” There, Ben Zoma asks, “Who is honored (mechubad)? The one who honors (mechabed) others (habriyot).” The passage cites a verse in the Book of Samuel I in which God announces, “Those that honor me, I will honor.”

This means going back nearly 2,000 years in Jewish history.  While others are just now discovering this concept, it has been a foundational bedrock of our tradition for countless generations.  Writing further, Weiss writes about Conservative Judaism formally liberalizing its position on LGBT rights:

If Judaism had a moment most like this week’s DOMA ruling, though, it was the 2006 decision by the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards decision to allow out gays and lesbians to attend openly the movement’s flagship rabbinical seminary, in addition to liberalizing other of the movement’s attitudes regarding homosexual activity. In arguing for peeling back various notions of rabbinic restrictions in this realm, they cited as a cornerstone principle the concept of kevod habriyot, with the key responsum approved by the committee declaring, “So great is human dignity that it supersedes a negative commandment of the Torah.”

This is my heritage.  This is why 4 in 5 Jewish Americans believe our fellow Americans are entitled to the rights and blessings of marriage whether they are one man and woman, two men or two women.  Everyone is entitled to respect.  Everyone is entitled to dignity.  Everyone is entitled to the same rights under the law.  It is not just an aspiration, but a bedrock principle.  We believe that the fight for civil rights is everyone’s fight and not just of those that are presently discriminated against.


  1. Mets102

    that makes me very proud of my heritage because we’re busy standing up for our fellow citizens.

  2. “Kennedy combines the almost-there idea of several legal doctrines into an idea of treating others with a new legal term, ‘dignity.’ Kennedy’s dignity doctrine has been developed over decades, especially through his landmark decisions on LGBT rights. … The word ‘dignity’ and its counterpart ‘indignity’ are mentioned 13 times in Kennedy’s majority opinion in the DOMA case”.

    Is there a right to dignity? I think there should be. Without human dignity we are just a case number in a court. With a right to dignity, a SCOTUS could not offhandedly dismiss the most basic right, the right to vote. They could not rule against a Lilly Ledbetter who labored for years not realizing that her worth was discounted because of her gender. The indignity of that should not have been allowed to stand.

  3. PadreJM

    I have bookmarked it so that I may return and reread it a few more times so as to more fully inwardly digest the content.

    You packed a lot into a small space here.

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