In Good Faith: Why Religious Freedom Must Go Hand in Hand With Dignity for All

Today I was in the Georgia Capitol to speak against a bill entitled  the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The battlelines have been drawn, for the most part in familiar places.   Supporters tend to highlight that the bill protects the rights of the religious and does not impinge too much on the lives of anyone else. Opposition to the bill emphasizes that the measure would legalize discrimination, especially against those whose sexuality, gender identity or expression are deemed forbidden by another’s beliefs. The fear of government overreach into people’s personal lives, a powerful reason given by some of the bill’s supporters, is not something to be taken lightly.  However, as a Conservative rabbi, and what is often called “a person of faith,” I find more harmful the way my state’s current denial of the legality of same-sex marriages affects my own religious life greatly.

Within the Conservative movement, I have seen great scholars of Jewish law struggle with how to understand the holiness of a loving relationship between two men or two women or a family that is built on these relationships. My inspiration to become a rabbi, however, came hand in hand with a strong sense that Jewish teachings of the holiness of sexuality and recognition of the image of the Divine in every human being had to point toward fully including and celebrating loving relationships across the spectrum of human sexuality and gender.

I became a Conservative rabbi despite that the movement’s official policies at the time did not reflect my own support of gays and lesbians becoming rabbis and being recognized in marriage. However, I believed that the Conservative movement would embrace this position as they now have. I have had the honor of performing same-sex weddings in Massachusetts and elsewhere. However now, despite my religious beliefs and the official permission of my religious institutions, I am told by the state of Georgia that weddings I would perform according to my faith would be considered invalid.  And I am of course not alone. Many Christian, Jewish, and other religious leaders represent branches of our faiths that recognize and sanctify same-sex unions in matrimony. In this way, I believe that commitment to religious freedom, as well as freedom to act according to conscience, would call for supporting state recognition of same sex marriage rather than legislation that would allow only certain religious beliefs to hold sway over the way others live their lives.

Freedom is a powerful value without which our country’s greatest achievements would be meaningless. For me, what Jewish tradition teaches us about freedom is that it goes hand in hand with the respect for human dignity and the call to be holy that are core values of our Torah. The continuing recognition and support for all, regardless of how and whom they love and regardless of how they identify and express their gender, is for me a vital part of living in good faith.

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