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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 07_05_2013
07/04/2013 01:21 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
July 5, 2013

 

I’m away from home this week, but Lisa and I celebrated July 4th with friends in Colorado. Fireworks were canceled due to dry conditions, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of those who came out for the holiday parade. There is no place on earth like a crowd of Americans dressed in red, white, and blue celebrating America, land of the free and home of the brave. As I looked around the crowd, I also recognized that Americans celebrate many personal “Americas”. Within one nation, no matter our political, religious, or personal affiliations, we celebrate the privilege to choose our own ways forward.

                Case in point. This past week, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that President Clinton supported during his administration and years later regretted. While Americans will differ on the wisdom of the Court’s decision, the Robert’s Court reached their decision by addressing the law, not moral preferences or Biblical interpretations. The court didn’t approve of gay marriage, per se; they upheld the Constitution which must meet a standard to serve all Americans without prejudice and to do so within the boundaries of the Fifth Amendment. The specific case, Windsor v United States, recognized the injustice that Windsor suffered when her life-partner died and she received an estate tax bill over $300,000. Had they been married, she wouldn’t have received the tax bill and she would have enjoyed all the rights typically conveyed to a surviving spouse. The court might not agree with same-sex marriage (they didn’t go so far as to make a federal law to enforce gay marriage), but they wouldn’t deny a same-sex couple, who were married in a state where gay marriage is law, the same rights that heterosexual couples enjoy in a marriage contract.

                In the past, Jewish law often took umbrage with the law of the land when it conflicted with Jewish legal opinions. It happened more often in foreign lands, but it happens in America, too. Yet, Jews concluded long ago in Talmud, “Dina d’malchuta dina” the law of the land is the law. In the nation in which we live and are grateful to be citizens, the law is according to the secular courts. In America, freedom of religion permits us to conduct our rites and ceremonies without disruption or interference. At your marriage ceremony, the ketubah is for Jewish purposes; but, the marriage license is for the state and it makes me an agent of the state with permission to oversee the marriage ceremony. I’m not holding my breath for Texas to legalize same-sex marriage, but if the day should come, and if it were consistent with CCAR rules for rabbis, then my colleagues and I would have to choose whether or not we would officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies. If we did, the goal would be to honor the blessings God created in them and the hopes that the marriage they seek would place around them a sacred boundary that holds them accountable to each other, “to love, to honor and to cherish.” Just as there are no second-class citizens in the eyes of the law, there are no second-class citizens at Beth Israel. A qualified member of the congregation, like a citizen of America, enjoys all the rights and privileges thereof; without questions or litmus tests.

                Freedom is paramount to us as Americans and as Jews. The clarity of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, though unpleasant to some, should assure us that the law will be extended to all without bias and undue hardship, and that neither Judaism nor any religious majority will ever be the defining issue before the court. On this 4th of July holiday weekend, give thanks for the freedom we enjoy in America, as Jewish men and women who “know the heart of the stranger”, who know a time when we couldn’t choose, and who remember when foreign government’s heavy hand destroyed us. There is no perfect system and there is no way to make everyone happy, but on the 4th of July, as a Jew in America, I feel confident that the law of the land will be there for you and me, for our children and their children. God bless America. From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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