Speaking out for love, justice and the freedom to marry
From Jewish Mosaic director Gregg Drinkwater:
On Monday, October 20, I stood with nearly 100 rabbis, pastors, bishops and other religious leaders on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall to deliver a multi-faith message affirming the sanctity of marriage for all. A rainbow of clergy representing dozens of religious traditions spoke to the press, reminding us that those opposed to marriage equality cannot claim to represent all “people of faith.” The clergy, including Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El and five other rabbis from throughout the Bay Area, encouraged a ‘no’ vote on California’s Proposition 8, which would take away the right of LGBT people to marry the partner of their choice. Other prominent speakers included Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus (the Episcopal Bishop of California), Rev. Bishop Mark Holmerud of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Rev. Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding Bishop of Refuge Ministries/Fellowship. Convened by the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, a project of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the press conference was intended to rally people of faith to vote no on Prop. 8 and to stand for equal marriage for all.
Rabbi Wolf-Prusan noted that more than half the rabbis in California had signed on in support of marriage equality through the Progressive Jewish Alliance and Jews for Marriage Equality – quite striking given how rarely rabbis agree! He quoted the Torah’s demand that “justice, justice, [we] shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20), telling us that any time the Torah or his mother repeats something twice, we better pay attention! Why “justice, justice” rather than just using the word once? It reminds us that not only must we seek justice for ourselves, but we are equally commanded to seek justice for others. Indeed, it is only when we pursue justice for all that we can truly find justice and peace for ourselves. As the Sages noted in the Midrash Rabbah, “on three things the world rests, on Justice, on Truth, and on Peace.” To pervert justice it to “shake the world, for [justice] is one of its pillars” (Deuteronomy Rabbah, V:1).
This press conference on a strikingly sunny San Francisco morning followed a celebration of marriage equality put on the night before by a coalition of African-American clergy at San Francisco’s Jones Memorial United Methodist Church. Speakers included the Rev. Amos Brown, a noted Baptist leader, who had the room shouting out in affirmation in response to his passionate defense of gay inclusion. Alice Huffman, the president of the California branch of the NAACP, told of her personal advocacy for gay civil rights and the opposition she had faced within her own organization. A former politician, she called to mind words of advice from former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, whom she consulted when faced with her first controversy within the NAACP. Asking Brown how she might forge a compromise or take a middle position so as to not admit defeat, Brown responded forcefully, “You are now the president of the California NAACP. You do not compromise. You speak for truth and justice and stand firm. Always.” Taking this lesson to heart, she has been a vocal advocate for LGBT civil rights, even when some within the African American community opposed her position. Speak for truth and justice. Always.
Some leaders within the Jewish world oppose equal marriage. Some friends and family are not ready to imagine marriage rights for all. But no matter how their congregants and their communities may differ on this issue, the clergy on the steps of City Hall spoke for truth and justice in saying that Proposition 8 is wrong and that California’s voters must not vote away a fundamental human right. They assured us that we can continue to disagree, debate and argue and individual congregations and clergy can decide against performing marriages for same-sex couples. Indeed, the California ruling affirming equal access to marriage contained strong exceptions for religious communities. But writing discrimination into the law is never acceptable. On this point, a rainbow of clergy stood firm.