by Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
It’s been a little over a week since we heard the announcement of the result of the Same Sex Marriage Survey. As several observers have noted, the results demonstrated exactly the same level of support for same sex marriage as polls have been showing over the last couple of years. We now look to the Parliament to finally legislate the same access to marriage to same-sex couples as is offered to heterosexual couples. Hopefully moderate voices will prevail and the conservatives who are threatening to employ every dirty trick to delay the inevitable will be shouted down. The Moetzah–the Council of Progressive Rabbis, which was meeting when the postal survey results were announced, issued a statement noting that they rejoiced at the result and looked forward to the legislation that would soon follow. I missed that meeting, but feel exactly the same way.
I went along last Wednesday to the gathering organised by the Yes campaign in Hindmarsh Square and awaited the results along with hundreds of others. It was a wet, windy and cold morning, and we all huddled under umbrellas as we watched Australia’s chief statistician slowly working his way through his statement. When he finally came to the main point: that nearly 62% of those who had cast votes had supported same sex marriage, there was a loud cheer from the crowd. But looking around in the minutes that followed, I was struck by how few people continued to smile. Most faces were sombre. A woman near me quietly wept. A friend of mine posted on Facebook how devastating it was to her to see that 38% of Australians had voted against equal rights for same sex couples. Other friends of mine shared how painful these recent months have been as they have felt all of Australia judging their long-term relationship to determine if it was worthy of recognition. It is the opposite of helpful that their own Christian denomination, which is liberal in many other realms, has no pathway for a religious affirmation of their love for each other.
I am so thankful that, for the most part, this has not been the case in the Australian Jewish community. Of course, both the Union for Progressive Judaism and the Moetzah were proactive in reminding our members that we have been on record for some time supporting marriage equality. The Moetzah has permitted its members to officiate at same-sex commitment ceremonies for nearly ten years, and some of us are champing at the bit for the opportunity to perform same-sex marriages that are legally recognised.
But the general endorsement for same-sex marriage has come from far beyond the ranks of Progressive Jews. The Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Victoria—the RCV–issued a statement in early September calling on its adherents to vote no in the postal survey. Within 24 hours, a backlash began. Seven rabbis, including the president of the RCV, distanced themselves from the statement and made it clear that the statement had been adopted without everyone’s endorsement. Then the Executive Council of Australian Jewry—the peak body of Australian Jewish organisations—declared that the Rabbinical Council had acted in an alarmist fashion. ECAJ president Anton Block said, “The RCV statement was issued without proper thought or understanding of the way Australia’s Constitution and legal system work”, Mr Block said. “Religious marriages are outside the scope of the Marriage Act, which relates only to civil marriages. It is alarmist to suggest otherwise, and wrong for the RCV to use its authority in religious matters in this way. All people are entitled to have their dignity respected, regardless of their ethnicity, religious affiliations and beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, or any disability.”
Ultimately, The Australian Jewish News ran a front-page story about the whole affair, with the headline “Same-sex Marriage statement rocks rabbinate” after Rabbi Ralph Genende, one of the best-known of Melbourne’s Orthodox rabbis, resigned from the Rabbinical Council to protest the statement. RCV president Daniel Rubin was quoted as saying, The statement has caused immense anger and pain and has alienated many who already feel isolated within the community. I deeply regret the hurt that has been caused and as president of the organisation I sincerely apologise for this.”
It is very gratifying to see what a transformation has taken place around this issue within the larger Jewish community. Who could ever imagined that many within Australia’s Orthodox Jewish world would condemn a statement seen as divisive and hurtful?! I wanted to share a bit of the text of the original statement with you, but when I visited the RCV’s Facebook page, I discovered the statement itself was nowhere to be seen.
Of course, there is so much work still to be done. I acknowledge that these recent months have seen quite a lot of hurt inflicted on members of the LGBTQ community, and I am sorry. I acknowledge that the postal survey is only one step on a journey that has already been going on for twenty years. I’d like to share what my friend Kathy Kaplan posted on her own Facebook page. It speaks powerfully to me, and hopefully will to you too:
To my LGBTQI friends … I’m sorry.
I’m sorry the validity of your relationships was publicly debated.
I’m sorry you were the target of hateful advertising.
I’m sorry your families were attacked.
I’m sorry your abilities as parents was questioned.
I’m sorry you had to go through the experience of ticking a box in an attempt to try and secure your equal rights.
I’m sorry so many politicians didn’t do their jobs to ensure the rights of all Australians are upheld.
I’m sorry some Australians voted for those politicians.
I’m sorry… you deserved better.
You deserve better.