Jewish advocates for gay marriage welcomed the introduction of a bill aimed at legalizing same-sex marriage that two state legislators from the Philly area announced in Love Park this week.
Rabbi Peter Rigler, as recently as a year ago, said he thought that there was little chance of marriage equality being achieved anytime soon in Pennsylvania.
But after State Reps. Brian Sims and Steve McCarter announced Thursday at Love Park in Center City a new bill to legalize same-sex marriage, Rigler, of Temple Sholom, a Reform congregation in Broomall, said he thinks the prospects of such legislation passing have improved considerably.
"I feel much more confident that the tide is changing," said Rigler, who helped launch a Facebook page last year, Marriage Equality in PA — NOW!, to help advance the cause.
"A year ago, I think there was a sense of 'We shouldn’t even talk about this issue; it’s not going to go anywhere.' ”
The legislators, both Democrats from the Philadelphia area, spoke optimistically about the legalization of same-sex marriage in spite of opposition from Gov. Tom Corbett and members of the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate.
Sims, a civil rights attorney who last year became the first openly gay candidate elected to the state Legislature, said he was “100 percent” certain such legislation would pass. It was just a matter of how and when.
“This is not innovative legislation,” Sims said, referring to the 13 states and the District of Columbia that allow gay couples to marry.
There are 35 co-sponsors of the bill thus far, including Rep. Chris Ross, a Republican from Chester County.
State Sen. Daylin Leach first introduced a same-sex marriage bill in 2009 in the state Senate but received little support. Leach, who is running for the U.S. Congress, has continued to introduce his own marriage equality bill during the past three legislative sessions.
“Talk to young people, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans — they disagree on many issues but almost none of them have any interest in perpetuating a policy of discrimination,” said Leach. “This is a policy that is a dead-man-walking policy. It’s on its way out.”
Leach referred to the low divorce rate in Massachusetts, which was the first state to allow same-sex marriage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, states that allow same-sex marriage on average have lower divorce rates than those that ban the practice.
“There is no reasonable, rational, fact-based argument against marriage equality," Leach said. "It’s simply a religious argument or some people are uncomfortable with it."
Shelley Kapnek Rosenberg, an ally of the LGBTQ community, said it's "overdue and past time" for same-sex marriage to be legalized.
"My daughter and her partner ought to have the same right to get married as any other person," said Rosenberg, whose daughter is a rabbinic student.
But Rosenberg, who is the co-chair of a program that provides mentorship to families of members of the LGBTQ community, said legalizing same-sex marriage is just one piece in the larger fight for equality. She is also involved with efforts to ensure that people are not discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of their sexual orientation.
"Any piece of legislation that is opening someone's eyes to discrimination is a good thing," said Rosenberg, a Jenkintown resident.
Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch of Mekor Habracha, an Orthodox shul in Center City, declined to say whether he supported or opposed the bill but referred to the history of Jews being persecuted for their religious beliefs. While most Jews support gay marriage, many Orthodox Jews oppose it because they say it goes against Jewish law.
"We, of all people," Hirsch said. "should be sensitive to ensure that no one's rights are curbed by the religous beliefs of others."
Rabbi Yonah Gross of Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, an Orthodox shul in Wynnewood, has expressed misgivings about the changing nature of marriage in America but said taking a stand against the legislation was not high on his priority list.
“The reason I would not be very invested in it is because I don’t think” the legalization of same-sex marriage is “relevant to my synagogue and my job here,” he said.
Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel- Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in Wynnewood, said the Jewish community's response "needs to be one of embrace and a non-judgmental kind of embrace."
But he declined ot say whether he would officiate at a same-sex marriage should the legislation become law.
"I think that people have a right to get married and they should be able to marry who they want," Cooper said. "But from a perspective of Jewish tradition, there is a question of how Judaism can accept and incorporate same-sex couples into a traditional community."