This is a day of rejoicing and this is the sermon I have waited to deliver for many years.
25 years ago when I was first starting out as a Rabbi, I made my first foray into what would become continuing activism on behalf of LGBT rights as I flew to Seattle for my first CCAR conference. I had spent the days prior speaking passionately with various colleagues on behalf of a resolution in favor of the ordination of Rabbis without regard to sexual orientation. I will always remember the pride I felt on the day it was brought to the convention floor as I stood beside Rabbi Ely E. Pilchick z”l, our Rabbi Emeritus and a past-president of the CCAR, and saw him join me in casting an affirmative vote.
At future conferences I would support resolutions supporting same-sex civil marriages and responsa supporting Rabbinic officiation. As a Rabbi in St. Louis, I would help found Missourians for Freedom and Justice and successfully fight off a Right Wing attempt to pass a constitutional amendment that would have legalized discrimination against LGBT persons.
And in Connecticut and here in New Jersey, I would find myself playing very active roles in two successful efforts that brought marriage equality to those states. It has been quite a journey and today feels like the culmination of a moment of celebration that began only a few short years ago as I stood in Newark City Hall with my fellow clergy serving as witnesses for Mayor Cory Booker’s officiation at New Jersey’s first same-sex unions.
Along the way there have been a number of personal moments that strengthened my resolve to work towards this day. One in particular that comes to mind took place some 18 years ago. I was sitting with a very close friend consoling him after he had been through a particularly bad break-up. As I assured him that one day he would find the right person, I said “Don’t worry, one day you will find a nice Jewish boy, and I will be there to celebrate at your wedding!” A rather bold statement at a time when marriage equality was barely a dream and the first legally recognized same sex marriage still 9 years in the future.
But my statement was a reflection of my faith as a Rabbi and my belief in the American ideal. As a Rabbi, I understand our Judaism’s teaching that we are all equally created B’tzelem Elohim, in the divine image, as a guiding principle teaching us that all people are deserving of equal treatment and equal opportunity.
As a Rabbi whose tradition celebrates the sanctification of same sex marriages, I have prayed and worked for the day when those marriages would be recognized in the eyes of the law, as I believe they already were in the eyes of God. And tonight we celebrate a shecheheyanu moment as that day has finally come to our nation.
It has been 18 years since I assured my friend that I would celebrate at his wedding. He did, in fact, find a nice Jewish man with whom to share his life and his love, and 2 years ago last October I did celebrate with them at their wedding; something they could do because they lived in New York. Now, their state of residence no longer matters.
We are blessed to live in a country whose history reflects an ongoing commitment to the continuing pursuit of civil rights for all individuals and the continuing guarantee of the religious freedom. The murders in Charleston, SC and the controversy over removing the Confederate battle flag in their wake have reminded us, however, we still have some ways to go in fighting prejudice and discrimination in our country. Even as our President celebrated this victory by noting that our Union was now “a little more perfect”, a heaviness shown on his face as he anticipated the task of offering the eulogy at Rev. Sen. Pinckney’s funeral this afternoon.
We have a ways to go before our Union is not simply a little more perfect, but fully perfected. We have a ways to go as our eyes now turn from Marriage Equality to fighting for the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We have a ways to go before our society is an inclusive, just, safe and caring nation for all people, regardless of race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.
We have a ways to go; but the tide continues to turn and good hearted, inclusive-minded people continue to define the majority of Americans. As an American, I have been committed to seeing that ideal reflected in full legal recognition of same sex marriages in our country, while still respecting the rights of those faith traditions that choose not to sanctify such marriages. Todays decision has made this a reality. Today we can declare, as do the opening word’s of this Shabbat’s parasha, This Is The Law!
As Justice Kennedy so beautifully stated in his decision: No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
We have waited far too long to see the lifetime promise of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family that is marriage be made available to all couples. Marriage equality is no longer the dream of someday, it is the undeniable right of this day and this day is a day for celebration.
Unlike other Religions, in which marriage is viewed as a divinely ordained sacrament; in Judaism we see marriage as a Brit, a sacred covenant, entered into by two persons in the presence of God and community. This image of marriage as a covenantal relationship mirrors the historic ideal of the covenantal relationship between God and our people, with its mutual responsibilities and its assumption of constancy.
Regarding marriage, the prophet Hosea offered these vows, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion, I will betroth you to me in everlasting faithfulness.” (Hosea 2:21-22)
A marital relationship is covenantal and enduring and includes mutual esteem, trust, and faithfulness. More than anywhere else, it is here, in the midst of covenant, that Jewish marital values pass the litmus test of inclusivity. A covenant is not a gay thing or a straight thing; it is a human thing and a Godly thing.
Each of us has been given the blessing of a covenantal relationship with our God; how much the more so is each of us worthy of entering such a relationship with our chosen partner through the holy act of Kiddushin, Jewish marriage.
Three years ago, from this pulpit on Yom Kippur I prayed that all those seeking partners with whom to share the blessings of Kiddushin would find them; that such love and commitment would continue to grow and deepen; that God’s presence would be felt in the midst of the marital bonds of all who share in them; and that those sacred bonds of marriage would be open to all such couples. Kiddushin, is a sacred blessing and a precious treasure whose gifts can now enjoyed by all who seek them.
This is a day for celebration and so in the words of the Sheva Brachot:
O God, may there forever be heard throughout the land:
the voices of joy and gladness,
the voices of loving companions joined together in marriage,
the voices of celebration and song.
Blessed are You, Adonai, who causes loving couples to rejoice together as one.
(Delivered at Temple Shalom on Erev Shabbat, Friday, June 26, 2015)