The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Redefining marriage?

I have held that opening up marriage to same-sex couples hardly qualifies as “redefining” it. But an interesting post, essentially, takes the bull by the horns: suppose it is true that we are “redefining” marriage? The author of the post, a rabbi named Joseph Meszler, responds with a thoughtful post on the Daily Beast site entitled “Redefine Marriage? Absolutely”:

About 2,000 years ago, a group of radicals called rabbis sought to redefine marriage. "Traditional marriage" at the time looked something like this:

Two families of similar socio-economic status sought to preserve their wealth by arranging a marriage between their children. They negotiated a deal with conditions that included a dowry as well as obligations on the woman to provide for her husband's home. In fact, in much of the literature of the time, she was simply referred to as his bayit — his house — the absolute homemaker.

Sometime after the betrothal, she was marched under a wedding canopy from her father's house safely into her new husband's home (or more likely to her father-in-law's house as the husband was probably only an adolescent and not yet independent).

If she failed to please him, the husband could hand his wife a bill of divorce. (She could not do so if the reverse was true.) This could potentially leave the girl — and she was most likely still a girl — impoverished.

Because of the risk of women being left destitute, the rabbis intervened and created a document called a ketubah. This document became mandatory for all weddings. It was basically a prenuptial agreement that a wedding was not a casual affair but was rooted in a time and place with witnesses. The groom had an obligation to his wife, and she had rights as well. And if he wanted to divorce her, he was required to pay her a certain sum of money in order to protect her from poverty. A court could enforce the payment of her ketubah.

The ketubah back then still defined women according to their status (with less of a payment if the woman was a divorcee or widow) that today we would find offensive. But make no mistake: by creating the first prenuptial agreement and advocating for women's rights, the ketubah redefined marriage.

A different revolutionary move happened later in the Middle Ages. Church law and Jewish law began to forbid men from having more than one wife. In the history of Judaism, this prohibition happened definitively in the 10th century by Rabbi Gershon. This, too, eventually became the norm.

An equally important effort is being made today to allow same-sex marriage. As I argue in my book, “A Man's Responsibility: A Jewish Guide to Being a Son, A Partner in Marriage, a Father, and a Community Leader” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008), while some say same-sex marriage flies in the face of tradition (and it absolutely contradicts certain passages of Scripture and a long legal legacy), we should ask ourselves what tradition looks like. How selective do we want to be when we refer to “traditional” marriage? Do we include arranged marriages for children? Polygamy? Doesn't tradition also include the revolutions that took place as we grew in knowledge and wisdom?

Scripture rejects the act of sex between those of the same gender. But we have learned a great deal since then and must always learn anew from our Scripture and the world around us with the minds God has given us. Just as our rituals are hallowed by time, we must be careful because prejudice and violence are also very old as well. And shouldn't we keep in mind Scripture also says we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)?

We need to redefine marriage to include gay and lesbian couples with the same vigor that the rabbis introduced the ketubah and legislators banned polygamy. We should see same-sex marriage as the latest revolution in the creation of unions sanctified by God. It is a repudiation of prejudice and oppression and an affirmation of human rights. It brings the support of community into the private lives of two people who love each other. It also affirms that we reinvent traditional practices as human beings struggle to morally progress and evolve.

If only we were as brave as the rabbis were back then.

Now, since the author of this post is a rabbi, it is clear that at least some of the clergy in my own, Jewish, religion are comfortable with same-sex marriage. And certainly some Christian clergy are as well. So the argument that it goes against God's law holds no water: no single religious belief is supposed to take precedence over any other, according to the First Amendment. I must say to those who argue against it on the “God's law” ground: “Even if you believe it is contrary to God's law, other people believe otherwise, and their opinion needs to be taken into account as well, per the First Amendment!” Same-sex marriage, despite what some people have posted, infringes nobody's religious freedom, but banning it actually does infringe.

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