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A Right Long Overdue

July 2, 2013
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Edith Windsor

Last week’s groundbreaking rulings on same-sex marriage show just how far our country has come in recognizing the rights of gay and lesbian individuals. It also shows how much more needs to be done.

The decisions, which in effect struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and enabled a return to gay marriages in California, reflect rapidly changing attitudes toward homosexuality.

The fact that so many of the protagonists in this cause have been — and continue to be — Jewish shouldn’t be a surprise. Jews have always been on the front line of civil rights issues, and advocating for gay rights is no different.

Indeed, it was a Jewish plaintiff, Edith Windsor, a Holocaust survivor whose case challenging DOMA was decided by the Supreme Court last week. Windsor and her attorney, Roberta Kap­lan, received a standing ovation at Friday night services at Beit Simchat Torah, Manhattan’s flagship gay congregation where both are members. They spoke at the end of the service, JTA reported, comparing their efforts in securing equal rights for same-sex marriages to the efforts of the biblical daughters of Zelophehad, who fought for inheritance rights and won.

And, of course, three of the five justices in the majority opinions were the Jewish justices of the court — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.

The majority of American Jews support gay rights and the right to have a same-sex marriage. In our community, too, this view has evolved, as evidenced by the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly’s enthusiastic support for the recent rulings.

The Orthodox community is still grappling with — and mostly opposed to — same-sex marriage. Many in the community cite what they see as the Torah’s prohibition against homosexuality and worry about the consequences such legal legitimacy will entail.

But one doesn’t need to condone homosexuality or same-sex marriage in order to recognize and value equal rights for gay individuals. In this day and age, when we now understand that homosexuality is not a choice, the time for granting full rights for LGBT individuals is long overdue.

Pennsylvania is not yet one of the states that has legalized gay marriage or enacted full rights for gays. But it should be. We should let our lawmakers know that depriving any of our citizens their basic rights is no longer acceptable.

On this July 4th holiday, as we celebrate America’s independence in the very birthplace of our freedom, we must ensure that the promise of the Declaration of Independence rings true — that “all men (and women) are created equal.”

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