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Exclusive: Masorti Teshuvah On Marriage Equality

July 2, 2015 – 10:18 pm2 Comments

By Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen and Rabbi Adam Stein

Masorti Beit Din of Australasia

rabbi adam stein with rainbowQuestion: Does the Masorti Movement have a position on Marriage Equality/Same Sex marriage?

Answer: Marriage Equality is an issue which has been addressed in different ways in a number of English speaking countries (and beyond—some 19 countries have passed such legislation) over the last couple of years. Ireland approached it as a constitutional issue while both the New Zealand and United Kingdom parliaments legislated on it. In the United States of America, the Supreme Court recently declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

The Masorti Beit Din is guided in its deliberations by the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS). The Rabbinical Assembly is the international association of Conservative/Masorti rabbis.

In December 2006, the CLJS adopted a responsum entitled Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah, which states that rabbinic prohibitions banning gay and lesbian intimate acts “are superseded based upon the Talmudic principle of kvod habriot [ כבוד הבריאות ], our obligation to preserve the human dignity of all people (p19).”

The responsum also “effectively normalises the status of gay and lesbian Jews in the Jewish community,” and declares “stable, committed, Jewish relationships to be as necessary and beneficial for homosexuals and their families as they are for heterosexuals (p19).”

Subsequently, in Spring 2012, the CLJS adopted an addendum entitled Rituals And Documents Of Marriage And Divorce For Same-Sex Couples. This document states, in describing the suggested marriage ceremonies and documents, that “we are convinced that the nomenclature of gay marriage and divorce should be equal and clearly stated as such, not obscured in ambiguous language (p3).”

This Beit Din, cognisant of the above documents and precedents, calls on the Australian Parliament to legislate for Marriage Equality.

We base our call not only on the above CLJS decisions but upon the following principles:

  1. The Hebrew Bible tells us that we are all created in the Image of G-d. G-d does not distinguish between heterosexuals and homosexuals.
  2. One of the gifts G-d has placed in the world is love. G-d did not discriminate between the love experienced by people who are heterosexual and those who are homosexual.

Much of the opposition to monogamous homosexual relationships is based on the incorrect assumption that it is a lifestyle choice. It was not that long ago that homosexuality carried a diagnostic category as a mental illness (the American Psychiatric Association removed it by a vote of the APA membership, and homosexuality was no longer listed in the seventh edition of DSM-II, issued in 1974).

Judaism has never seen the role of sexual intercourse as only for procreation. Judaism has seen it also as a way in which a loving relationship can be expressed between two individuals.

The Beit Din rejects the spurious argument advanced by some who oppose marriage equality that the best environment in which to raise children is one where there is one father and one mother, implying (and sometimes claiming outright) that other family models, such as same-sex parents, are detrimental to children. Those who oppose marriage equality in Australia and abroad, and who use this argument, do not have scientific evidence on their side.

The 2006 responsum referenced above has extensive endnotes and lengthy appendix summarising “research on select issues in lesbian, gay, and bisexual psychology.“ One section of this appendix addresses some of the concerns levied by marriage equality opponents regarding children being raised (or raised in the future) by same-sex couples.

These include the fear that “the children of lesbian and gay parents will experience more difficulties in the area of sexual identity than children of heterosexual parents,” “aspects of children’s personal development other than sexual identity,” such as the “ fears that children in the custody of gay or lesbian parents would be more vulnerable to mental breakdown, would exhibit more adjustment difficulties and behaviour problems, or would be less psychologically healthy than other children.”

There are also fears that “children of lesbian and gay parents will experience difficulty in social relationships,” like being “stigmatized, teased, or otherwise victimized by peers.” Lastly “Another common fear is that children living with gay or lesbian parents will be more likely to be sexually abused by the parent or by the parent’s friends or acquaintance (p35).”

However, all of these concerns/fears have no evidence to substantiate them. The American Psychological Association’s 2004 Resolution on Sexual Orientation, Parents, and Children, in noting the above concerns (in the research of Falk, 1994; Patterson, Fulcher & Wainright, 2002), goes on to state the following: “Results of social science research have failed to confirm any of these concerns [italics here and below are ours] about children of lesbian and gay parents (Patterson, 2000, 2004a; Perrin, 2002; Tasker, 1999).

Research suggests that sexual identities (including gender identity, gender-role behavior, and sexual orientation) develop in much the same ways among children of lesbian mothers as they do among children of heterosexual parents (Patterson, 2004a)” (APA, 2005).

Studies of children raised by same-sex couples indicate that the vast majority identify as heterosexual in similar proportions as those raised by different-sex couples, however, the data sets are extremely small (Bailey, et. al. 1995; Golombeck & Tasker, 1996; Patterson, 2004a).

“Studies of other aspects of personal development (including personality, self-concept, and conduct) similarly reveal few differences between children of lesbian mothers and children of heterosexual parents (Perrin, 2002; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001; Tasker, 1999).

Evidence also suggests that children of lesbian and gay parents have normal social relationships with peers and adults (Patterson, 2000, 2004a; Perrin, 2002; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001; Tasker, 1999; Tasker & Golombok, 1997). The picture that emerges from research is one of general engagement in social life with peers, parents, family members, and friends.

Fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by adults, ostracized by peers, or isolated in single-sex lesbian or gay communities have received no scientific support. Overall, results of research suggest that the development, adjustment, and well-being of children with lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents.

(APA, 2004c)

One further point: The responsum and follow-up addendum from the Masorti Movement’s Law Committee cited above deal with homosexuality from the perspective of Jewish Law. We recognise that other Jewish denominations, other rabbis, and other Jews (even within the Masorti Movement) may disagree with our acceptance of same-sex marriages within a Jewish framework. However, no one is forcing those rabbis, individuals, denominations, or shules to officiate or host Jewish same sex marriages.

The current debate in Australia regards the civil and government recognition of same sex marriages. We see no reason to oppose such legislation. Rather, we encourage all Jews who care about respect and dignity for everyone in Australian society to support marriage equality.

We are happy to use values and principles drawn from Jewish text, law, and tradition, and well as proven research, to support the basic rights and dignity of fellow Australians.

Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen and Rabbi Adam Stein 

Masorti Beit Din of Australasia


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  • harry says:

    with all due respect to the author, he needs to get his facts right.
    homosexual acts are not rabbinic prohibitions rather a biblical prohibition.

  • letters in the age says:

    Times are changing for the better..

    If only our weird p.m can evolve like the rest of the world and those nasty far right wing conservatives see the light…

    Awesome stuff…

    LOVE is LOVE

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