Gay Adoption, Gay Marriage as Moral Obligations: Two Jewish Views

Here’s a refreshing change: instead of the spurious, religious arguments against gay adoption and gay marriage, two more voices (this time, from Jewish perspectives)  speaking out on the positive faith-based reasons in favour of each.

In the first of these, at the Jerusalem Post, the orthodox Rabbi, television host and author of religious books on relationships Shmuley Boteach argues strongly in favour of gay adoption. Last month, he participated with Rosie O’Donnell in a New Jersey public discussion on the subject. In an article published before this event, he reflected on these issues, and especially on an aspect that I see as the most important of all. When a friend he spoke to expressed regret that Rosie’s four adopted children would never have a father (the standard, theoretical argument against gay adoption), Rabbi Shmuley replied with the obvious and important, reality-based response:

that without Rosie they wouldn’t have a mother either.

Gay Couple with child

Image via Wikipedia

 

(The simple, obvious truth is that a child needs parents – period. Two are (usually) better than one, but one is better than none. There is no evidence that two opposite sex parents as a class are necessarily any better than two same sex parents – but even if such evidence did exist, it would be irrelevant, for children are not adopted by a collective class of parents, of any orientation. They area adopted by specific, real people. It is the personal qualities of those particular individuals, not those of a group average, that what matter. Some prospective parents, gay or straight, will make have the qualities to make terrific parents. Others will not).

Rabbi Shmuley goes on to observe that in Jewish tradition, there is no higher moral good than in giving a home to a child that otherwise would have none. Instead of opposing same sex couples (or single gay men or lesbians) who are prepared to make the enormous sacrifices that are required in doing so, straight couples should be commending them. And if they persist in their opposition, the obvious next question is, if you will not approve others adopting, are you willing to make these sacrifices yourself?

But to my fellow straight people I offer the following challenge. You have every right to oppose gay marriage. It’s a free country. We don’t suppress opinions. But aren’t you under a moral obligation to adopt the children in their stead? Surely leaving kids to drown without love is deeply immoral. But to stop others from rescuing them is an abomination.

I am the father of nine children, thank G-d. I have at times discussed with my wife the possibility of adopting a child. Every child is a child of G-d, not only our biological children. They should have a home and we should offer it. But my conversations have never gone past just that, conversations. I stand in awe of all those who actually do it. In my religion, Judaism, there is no higher mitzvah, G-dly deed, than raising a child with no parents as your own. This is G-d’s child and really He should have made provisions for him. But the Creator chooses, for reasons unknown to us, to hide behind the veil of nature and it is we humans who must fill in the seemingly empty spaces. Those who adopt are society’s and religion’s greatest heroes.

Please note, here, the deliberate use of that much maligned word “abomination”. For it is not “homosexuality” that is an abomination, but

leaving a child to grow up in an orphanage where nobody wants him might be an even greater act of sacrilege.

Rabbi Shhmuley here is approaching the issue from a specifically Jewish perspective, with Jewish vocabulary. The essence of the argument though is equally valid for any other faith. (Indeed, it is essentially the same argument that was presented some months ago by a Catholic lesbian adoptive mother. In response to Archbishop Chaput’s exclusion from a Catholic school of some children with two mothers,  I reported on a lesbian Catholic mother who had written at dot Commonweal that it was precisely because of her strong Catholic faith and commitment to Catholic theology, with its emphasis on support for the poor and needy and encouragement of adoption of orphans, that had led her to adopt her children.)

Meanwhile, New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weintraub has contributed to what she calls a “welcome dialogue” in the Jewish Standard on the subject of gay marriage. As a sponsor of the unsuccessful state legislation last year to approve legal recognition for marriage equality, she engaged in serious discussion with orthodox religious leaders on the bill – which was quite specifically named, and intended as, religious freedom as much as it was about marriage equality. While she acknowledged that some orthodox Jews (on religious grounds) were strongly against same sex marriage, others have a different view:

In crafting the Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act legislation, I was compelled to wonder why should the Rabbi leading the congregation to which I belong be prevented from legally sanctioning same gender marriages if he feels they fit into our Jewish religious beliefs, values and commitment to building family?  Any religious group in our country is entitled to practice their beliefs and to not be compelled to do anything they find in contradiction within their houses of worship.

 

Legislatively, I know we respect these differences. Personally, I know I respect the differences within my own Jewish community. But it is sad and hurtful when those differences cause pain and isolation to other members of our community.   Without this conversation we will be contributing to that isolation and pain which has led to the high rate of suicide among gay youth in our nation and in our state.

 

I know that most of our Orthodox Rabbis and some of our political leaders believe that same sex unions are against G-d’s law.  But I also know that many others believe that we are born into our sexual identity and that love and commitment to another human being should be cherished, not isolated.  That making a public commitment to another person should be celebrated and enjoyed on our simcha pages.  I look forward to these differences being acknowledged, but most important accepted, so that we can live comfortably within our religious institutions while recognizing who each of us really is as a distinct human being.

This divergence of the Jewish religious views on marriage is also evident in the Christian churches. (It is the argument that the British Quakers used in arguing for the removal of the restrictions in the UK Civil Partnerships on conducting the procedures in religious premises or with religious language.  The Quakers argued that the established legal principle of religious freedom should mean that they should not be prevented by other denominations beliefs against same sex marriages, from conducting marriages that did not conflict with their own beliefs).

Writing in the Huffington Post, the pastor Candace Chellew-Hodge has yet another religious based argument in favour of gay marriage. She says, let gy people rehab marriage:

perhaps gays and lesbians can be the savior for marriage. Just as many old neighborhoods in my hometown of Atlanta were saved by gays and lesbians buying dilapidated houses and renovating them, why can’t gays and lesbians rehab marriage?

 

Gays and lesbians are clamoring for the right to get married. Obviously, within our community the idea of “’til death do us part” is not a hackneyed phrase or something to be avoided at all costs. We want to walk down the aisle and have our happily ever after. For those gays and lesbians who agree … that marriage is “an institution central to human happiness and flourishing,” we want the ability to flourish together as married couples, and yes, even to raise children together.

The early discussions on gay marriage and LGBT equality mostly pitted “religious” arguments against, matched with secular “civil rights” arguments in favour. This is usually as sterile debate, with the two sides simply speaking past each other. As the public discourse has progressed, it is becoming clear that secular opinion has largely been settled in support, especially among young people, whose support is overwhelming. Simultaneously, the traditional “religious” sentiment against is fragmenting, with increasingly vocal voices speaking up in support of the religious arguments in favour. This greater visibility of the disagreements between people of faith is important: as both Senator Weintraub and the British Quakers have observed, the principle of religious freedom makes it difficult for those who opposed to queer equality to impose their religious views on those of other faiths, whose own religious beliefs lead them to a different conclusion.

The religious arguments for maintaining legal restrictions on equality then become simply indefensible. They will have to go – as they surely will do.

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