Gay Marriage

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The debate is currently ranging in New York State about same-gender marriage. There are many in the Orthodox Jewish community who are advocating against it, often loudly and sometimes even accusingly. I suggest that this is not the right tactic because the entire discussion is approaching the issue from the wrong perspective. We are not concerned with the law.

Our interest is in the cultural atmosphere. As Orthodox Jews, we believe that homosexuality is not the norm. While we do not want to legislate what people do in their bedrooms and we certainly oppose discrimination against any minority, we believe that American culture should value heterosexuality as a norm and consider homosexual activity to be an aberration.

In that sense, attempting to influence legislation now is a belated and ineffective measure. The cultural battle has been fought and lost. Generally, Orthodox Jews played no role in that debate, mainly because we remained isolated in our own communities and uninvolved with the larger cultural battle. We gave up pretty much without a fight. In our attempts to protect our communities from the American culture at large, we detached from it and refrained from trying to change it.

Maybe that was for the best and we would have failed anyway. Regardless, the cultural battle is done. We are coming to the plate after the game is over. Do we really think that we can turn back the clock on this issue?

A similar example of a cultural change is in the halakhic issue of whether a rabbi may perform a wedding ceremony for a non-religious couple. Since the couple will not observe the laws of family purity, the rabbi is facilitating these violations by wedding them. This was a major issue 100 years ago and I even recall a book published about 15 years ago in Israel arguing that rabbis may not perform weddings for secular Jews. However, the mainstream view is that now that pre-marital relations is sadly a standard practice, the actual wedding service does not facilitate any violations because they occur regardless.

Similarly, the culture has changed regardless of whether the state allows for same-gender marriage. Homosexuality has become socially accepted and the issue is merely a matter of the law reflecting contemporary culture. Opposing that law will not change the culture.

This is not to say that we should support the law either. I don’t think that would be a proper message to send. However, opposing it seems to me to be waging a pointless battle that can have significant political costs.

(See also this post: link)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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