The United States Supreme Court recently made two important rulings served to further settle our decades-long battle over gay marriage, with America intensely divided over the decisions. Opponents of same-sex marriage maintain that we regressed as a civilization in redefining the institution of marriage. Religious communities, most notably Catholics and Evangelical Christians, are lamenting a perception of growing marginalization. They expect that the prospects of wider social and legal acceptance of gay marriage will ultimately decimate family values across the nation. Proponents of gay rights, however, contend that these rulings are victories, not just for themselves, but also for our country’s ongoing quest to expand justice and civil rights.
I’m an Orthodox rabbi and I’m well aware of Leviticus’ prohibition on homosexuality, but also mindful of the experience of gays in America. I have a gay brother and I also communicate with hundreds of religious Jews and Christians who confide in me secretly, many expressing a wish to die or hurt themselves because of the secret lives they are forced to live. I’m also painfully aware of the inevitable relapse that follows the allegedly “corrective” therapy for homosexuality, with many of those “treated” reluctantly entering unfulfilling marriages, inflicting harm and loneliness both on themselves and their spouses.
For those who say that homosexuality is the height of immorality, let’s remember that this is a religious prohibition, not a moral one. Moses delivered the Ten Commandments on two tablets in order to categorize two different kinds of transgression: religious and moral. The first tablet discussed religious transgressions between God and man, such as the prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy and desecration of the Sabbath. The second tablet contained moral sins between man and his fellow human, like adultery, theft and murder. As I’ve written, the essence of an ethical violation, as opposed to a religious infraction, is injury to an innocent party. This is not the case with two unattached, adults entering a consensual relationship with each other that is not based on deception or lies, like adultery.
And although it seems that homosexuality is afforded a special condemnation in the Bible by being referred to as ‘an abomination’, that’s only superficially true. Abomination appears in the Bible 122 times describing, among other things, eating non-kosher foodstuffs and shell-fish (Duet 14:3), and a wife returning to her first husband after she has been married to another man (Deuteronomy 24:4). Proverbs labels as an “abomination” even such things as envy and a false heart, pride, slander and “he that sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs3:32; 16:22). The Biblical prohibition on homosexuality is, therefore, a religious sin, akin to lighting fire on the Sabbath, but not a moral one, like stealing.
The best solution to the same-sex marriage dilemma, as I proposed during my 2012 Congressional race, would have been for our government to withdraw fully from religious marriage, opting instead to grant civil unions to all who wished. I proposed marriage for none, civil unions for all. Straight couples and gay couples should have been given equal rights to all the government benefits of being a couple, from tax benefits to inheritance benefits. But marriage, areligious institution, is consecrated by priests and clergymen, not by court judges. The government has no business being involved in religion. Civil unions, and all of the financial benefits that come with it, should have always been accessible to both opposite and same-sex couples equally. I’m relieved that gay unions are finally considered equal under the law because it is a civil right. But we could have avoided the whole marriage debate by allowing religious groups to decide for themselves whom they marry, and gays and straights deciding which religious groups they wish to affiliate themselves with.
But with the Supreme Court ruling, this is behind us now and it’s time to for America to get away from the distraction that caused us to avoid any conversation on what’s really destroying families, namely the decline of American values. Gays account for about seven percent of the population. Yet there is a 50% divorce rate.
Indeed, has noone noticed that while gay men fight day and night for the right to be married, straight guys are running to the hills when their girlfriends ask them, after 500 years of living together, to tie the knot?
Why is there no discussion of the culture of heterosexual male womanizing where men find it so difficult to commit? Where is the conversation about a culture where the sanctity of sex and love has been made so pedestrian that long-term unions simply don’t work.
The divorce rate continues to climb, families are spending less time together than ever, our youths seem inseparable from Facebook and their cell phones, we have no year of national service to teach them altruism, our core values seem in decline, and yet all we straight people talk about is whether gay people can marry.
The huge divorce rate causes untold levels of disruption in the lives of children, and instability, pain, and stress in the lives of the divorced. Our obsession with gay marriage, and blaming them as a scapegoat for our marital problems, has not succeeded in bringing husbands and wives together and repairing broken families. We straight people don’t need help from gays in destroying marriage, having done an admirable job of it ourselves, thank you very much. Marital decay these days begins with the easy hook-up culture of teen-hood where young people are trained to see the opposite sex as a commodity to be exploited and reaches dizzying heights with the rancid culture of male womanizing and female drunkenness that has become so common on the American University campus.
Families today are deeply estranged from each other and never seem to have little time to together as a family unit. Even family dinner time, a once popular cultural standard, has gone away. A tsunami of research bears out the importance of family dinners to a child’s stability and well-being. Studies by Columbia University and the University of Minnesota found that teens who do not have regular family dinners are three and a half times more likely to abuse drugs. Girls who have regular family dinners with their parents are one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits like anorexia or abuse diet pills. For these reasons and more, I launched “Turn Friday Night into Family Night” and encouraged America to follow the “2/2/2” theme: two hours of family dinner, with the family inviting two friends as guests, and with two subjects suggested for all to discuss.
What plagues America is a sense of entitlement in which citizenship is seen as something that entails receiving without giving, obtaining government gifts without concomitant civic obligations, indulging in the blessings of America without consecrating our lives as a blessing to our great Republic. Encouraging greater altruism among our youth is the only remedy to reverse the tide of selfishness that has crept into America.
As a young Chabad Rabbinical student I spent two years in Australia as a volunteer teacher in the Sydney Jewish community. It was an experience that built character, brought me significant maturity, and created friendships that last to this day. I would later marry a woman from Sydney and I still visit the community regularly. But more than anything else, what a two-year tour of service did was help me transcend the natural human disposition to self-absorption and make me more other-people focused. Just look at Israel and its insistence that all young men and women give two to three years of their lives for their country in the form of military service. And while this is a necessity due to the endless collection of enemies who seek Israel’s total annihilation, its immediate by-product is the creation of a populace, though tiny, that electrifies the world with its industriousness, creativity, and entrepreneurship.
We must seek to minimize the divorce rate by reintroducing love into marriage and rededicate ourselves to developing caring relationships with our families and communities.