By Ben Tinsley
Cantor Sheri Allen of Arlington Beth Shalom, a Reform congregation, was overcome with emotion Friday after learning the United States Supreme Court had legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country.
Others, including the Orthodox Union, weren’t thrilled with the decision. OU officials said that the ruling won’t alter their beliefs that marriage exists between a man and a woman.
But Allen, considering the implications for her children, Jeremy, 27, Rebekah, 22 and Emily, 25, was very upbeat.
“It was a day of great relief and celebration and happiness for me,” Cantor Allen explained Monday. “I have a personal stake in it. My husband and I have three children and two of them (Jeremy and Rebekah) are gay. The other is a very, very fierce ally. … The thought that now it is possible for all three of my children to get married — in my synagogue if that’s what they choose to do —is nothing short of a miracle.”
Cantor Allen is one of many members of the Dallas-Fort Worth area Jewish community applauding Friday’s 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of these community members are urging their colleagues to stand against attempts to stop it from being implemented or penalize gay couples who enter into it.
As part of this landmark United States Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the recognition and provision of same-sex marriage is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The ruling denies states the right to ban marriage licenses between people of the same sex — and orders all states to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, Cantor Allen’s husband, a professor of film, television and digital media at Texas Christian University, said his thoughts Friday were also on his children. Richard Allen said he had long feared Jeremy and Rebekah would be unfairly regarded and ill-treated by the world because they are gay.
“You spend so much of their lives worrying about them — whether they will be accepted as equals,” Richard Allen said. “But this (the SCOTUS decision) was the crowning moment. It was like watching someone climb a mountain for 55 years and actually seeing them make it to the top. To me to know that my kids will not be marginalized, it was a liberating moment.”
A statement from the leadership of the OU is respectful to the SCOTUS ruling but ultimately asserts the historical position that the Jewish faith, “enunciated unequivocally in our Bible, Talmud and Codes,” strictly forbids homosexual relationships and condemns the institutionalization of such relationships as marriages.
In other words, the OU statement specifies marriage in their eyes can only be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman.
“Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable,” the statement reads.
The TJP was unable to get comments from four Orthodox rabbis contacted Tuesday.
However, at the same time, the statement notes that Judaism teaches respect for others and condemns discrimination against individuals.
“Our Divine system of law not only dictates our beliefs and behaviors, but also represents a system of universal morality, and therefore can stake a claim in the national discourse,” the statement reads. “That morality, expressed in what has broadly been labeled Judeo-Christian ethics, has long had a place in American law and jurisprudence.”
No religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic and it is not expected that secular law will always align with OU’s viewpoint, the statement continues.
“Ultimately, decisions on social policy remain with the democratic process, and (Friday) the process has spoken and we accord the process and its result the utmost respect,” the statement reads. “In the wake of (Friday’s) ruling, we now turn to the next critical question for our community, and other traditional faith communities – will American law continue to uphold and embody principles of religious liberty and diversity, and will the laws implementing today’s ruling and other expansions of civil rights for LGBT Americans contain appropriate accommodations and exemptions for institutions and individuals who abide by religious teachings that limit their ability to support same-sex relationships?”
The OU statement also notes several states have already struck a balance by incorporating religious liberty protections into their same-sex marriage statutes — an approach it asserts must continue because the expansions of civil rights for some Americans must not come at the cost of the civil rights of other Americans.
Cantor Allen’s journalist daughter Rebekah had writing assignments revolving around the SCOTUS decision. But she said she didn’t immediately process its personal significance. (A graduate of Columbia College Chicago, Rebekah is a New York City-based reporter for www.shewired.com.)
When the full implication of the SCOTUS ruling hit Rebekah, it was an interesting moment.
“When I was reading about the male couple it took 54 years to get married in Texas, it was the most emotional I have become,” she said. “I never expected couples to be getting married in Texas so soon. I am very work-oriented and focused on my career, but marriage is something I have wanted to find a way to do. I knew I could get married in places like New York and Washington and have been keeping track of where marriage is legalized since high school. But being able to go back to my home state to get married? That’s crazy. It’s completely amazing to know that option is there now.”
Others throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex had similar perspectives. For instance, in a column published on the day of the SCOTUS decision, Bradley Laye, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, said as a result of the ruling, couples across the United States — particularly those not yet allowed marriage equality — will run to courthouses and city halls to validate legally their long standing relationships under civil law.
“America will wake up and each person will do what he-she does on a Saturday, and life will be remarkably similar as it was the day before,” Laye wrote.
But there are differing opinions. For example, Diane Benjamin, who currently serves as Republican Precinct Chair No. 2021, strongly disagrees with Laye. She describes the SCOTUS ruling as a “tragical” rather than a historical moment.
She said ultimately, this issue is about “big government dictating to us in your bedroom, as well as mine, and it’s about the death of the judicial system and checks and balances… plus the tragic erosion of our family values, inherent in our faith.”
Others members of the Jewish community said they appreciated the ruling. Rabbi Steve Fisch, the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El Binah, a Reform Jewish congregation formed more than 20 years ago as an outreach to the LGBT community of the Metroplex, was 100 percent behind the SCOTUS decision.
“I strongly disagree with those who invoke religion as they seek to impose their own views on the issue of marriage to those who disagree with them,” Fisch said. “I stand firmly united with all faith leaders who embrace this decision.”
Plano Adat Chaverim’s Rabbi Ben Sternman, who was at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life conference in Jackson, Mississippi on Monday and couldn’t speak by phone, applauded the ruling in an email.
“I’m very glad that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the equality and dignity of the LGBTQ community and specifically equal marriage rights,” Sternman wrote. “We are all of us created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, we should treat one and other equally and with dignity.”
Rabbi Steve Fisch said the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinic body of Reform Judaism, has long advocated for equal civil rights for gay men and lesbians – passing a resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality as early as 1977 – and taken concrete steps within the rabbinical community to advance such equality.
“We are required to provide the same rights to everyone, whether they identify as straight, lesbian, gay or transgender,” he said. “I personally view the decision as a huge step forward for full equality of all citizens of our great country.
“As Jews, we have been consistently and horribly been made victims for being ‘other,’ and it feels as if the tide is turning again towards that sentiment in many parts of the world. And, gam zeh ya’avor. (This too shall pass.)
“Today, we celebrate with a storied minority that too has been denied and victimized for an inherent characteristic of simply being. LGBTQ equality may or may not be your personal issue or cause near or dear to you, but it is a Jewish cause as this is what Jews do.”
The ruling, incidentally, currently is considered the U.S. Supreme Court’s most important expansion of marriage rights in the United States since the 1967 ruling in the case Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state laws barring interracial marriages.
Opponents of same-sex marriage are still trying to oppose the ruling on other fronts.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton both issued opinions directing state agencies to “respect and preserve Texans’ religious liberties,” meaning encourage county clerks to refuse to issue licenses to gay couples if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. The development has prompted supporters of the SCOTUS ruling to state that this is the beginning, not the end, of the fight for legalized gay marriage.
Roberta S. Clark, regional director of the North Texas/Oklahoma Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League, said SCOTUS fell on the right side of history with its decision.
“We are pleased and proud and believe the Supreme Court was correct,” Clark said.
“This is one step forward but many more steps need to be taken.”
Overturning the marriage ban not only ensures that religious institutions do not have improper influence, it also makes sure religious groups are allowed to decide the definition of marriage for themselves, Roberta Clark said.
“In all honesty, I don’t have a magic ball but I’m hopeful that the people recognize personal opinions should not override the law of the land,” Clark said.