STATEMENT BY JAY MICHAELSON, DIRECTOR OF NEHIRIM (A NATIONAL JEWISH GAY & LESBIAN ORGANIZATION), FROM PRESS CONFERENCE ON CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT DECISION ON HOMOSEXUALITY
Good afternoon. My name is Jay Michaelson, and I am a gay religious Jew. I observe the traditional sabbath laws, I keep kosher, and I share my life with my partner, who is a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston. I am gratified that, today, the Conservative movement’s law committee has recognized what those of us who are gay or lesbian, or who have gay or lesbian relatives, have known for a long time: that homosexuality is a trait, not a choice; and that a God who loves God’s children could not possibly want them to hate themselves, to lie to everyone they know, and to destroy a fundamental part of themselves, the natural, God-given gift of sexuality.
“The closet” is a rather cozy metaphor to describe what lying about your sexuality really is. I should know — I lied about mine for fifteen years: to myself, to my girlfriends, to my family, and to everyone else. And I can tell you: it’s not a closet — it’s a tomb. Sexuality isn’t a preference, it isn’t a choice, like choosing vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate. It’s part of who you are — and shutting it down shuts down the heart.
My relationship to God, to holiness, is among the most important things in my life. And I can tell you firsthand that lying and Godliness do not go together. The more any of us denies this basic truth about sexuality — that it is natural, inborn, and God-given — the more repression, the more scandals, the more fear, the more hatred of self and others.
Yet today we breathe a bit of fresh air. Because our age-old traditions are wiser than passing prejudices. Because they take account of new information, like what we now know to be scientifically true about sexuality. And because, slowly, deliberately, perhaps even haltingly, the Jewish halachic system sometimes works.
Today’s decision does not mean that the sky will fall. All the rabbis in that closed room did today was say “There’s a verse that could mean a lot of things, or it could mean the one thing it says. We think it means just one thing.” And we think that not for expediency, not for political correctness — but because it is inconceivable that a loving God creates gays and lesbians only to have them mutilate the gifts that God has given.
To those who say today’s decision will tear Judaism in two, or compromise our basic values, I ask that you just look at me. Am I such a nightmare? Am I here to destroy the institution of marriage? No — I am here to love God, to serve God, and to make this world worthy of God.
Excluded from the rabbinate of the movement into which I was born, I today do this work in other ways. I direct a national organization that runs spiritual and cultural programming for gay and lesbian Jews. I write books and for newspapers and magazines. I teach at schools and synagogues. I meditate and I pray. I speak out. And every week, I hear from religious men and women still trapped in the “closet,” still believing that, because of something they cannot control, God hates them.
I know today’s action may cause some controversy. But if today’s ruling tells one of those religious men and women, or just one gay teen, or just one worried parent of a gay or lesbian youth, if it tells any one of them that God and love go together, then it is worth it.
If today’s ruling saves one gay man from being harassed, or threatened with violence, or told he does not belong in a place of worship, then it is worth it.
And if today’s ruling helps lift some of the misconceptions about what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality, then it is worth it too.
But apart from all of those things, today’s ruling is right because it is true. “The seal of God is truth,” we are told in the Talmud. And what is that simple truth, underneath the fear, the discomfort, and the ignorance? It’s just this: that gay people exist, because God made us that way.