When the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would decide on the legality of California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June, I decided to take a look at a speech I gave about lesbian and gay families for my synagogue’s oratory contest in 2004. At the time, Multnomah County, Oregon (a mile from where I lived) had briefly legalized same-sex marriage, bringing LGBTQ rights to the local forefront for the first time I could remember; I, as a not-yet-aware-I-was-queer 13-year-old, wanted to share my thoughts from a Jewish perspective. My speech (which won second place in the middle school division!) was well-intentioned, but often misguided. Among other things, it:
- Called homosexuality a lifestyle
- Discussed the Torah’s call to kill men who have sex with men in a “well, we shouldn’t kill, but obviously it must be bad if the Torah said it was worthy of death” kind of tone
- Acknowledged that same-sex couples could make great parents and that adopting was a mitzvah
In the years between giving that speech in 2004 and now, I grew and changed: from a middle schooler to a grad student, from a Conservative Jew to a humanistic one, and from a closeted boy to a proud queer man. During many of those years, I struggled to understand and accept my sexual orientation. I recently reflected upon what I wish I had known before that struggle, when I gave my speech nine years ago:
Sexual Orientation is About a Lot More Than Sex
The Torah’s condemnation of homosexuality only discusses sex, but sexual orientation involves much more than what happens in the bedroom. My Jewish upbringing included nothing about the feelings of attraction and love a person may have for someone of the same sex, nor did it mention that sexual orientation is simply a part of who a person is. Thankfully, there is a greater awareness of that today.