Yes, it’s true; I’m a straight, married orthodox woman who lives in a very (small -c) conservative neighborhood. There are women here who wear burqas. There are parts of this city that have separate sidewalks for men and women. I am not aware of a single openly queer person living here. So why go out of my way to broadcast that I think we must support LGBT rights in Israel? Obviously because I am a glutton for the collective wrath of the entire Orthodox community. Um, not so much. It is because I feel deeply and strongly that no matter what your sexual or religious orientation, you deserve to be treated equally under the law.
Friday was Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Parade. It is an event that attracts tourists from all over the world and Israel, with over 100,000 participants last year (myself included). For over twenty years since Israel decriminalized homosexuality, the ‘gay scene’ has been steadily growing. In fact, Tel Aviv is considered one of the top gay destinations on the globe. While there is great support and acceptance for LGBT rights among Israel’s secular population (74% support allowing same-sex marriage), most religious groups are not surprisingly opposed.
Whether or not to give all of our citizens the right to marry the people they love cannot be understood without considering it in the wider context of the rabbinical hegemony over all things family in Israel. Jews in Israel are obligated to marry in an Orthodox ceremony supervised by an Orthodox Rabbi. The brides attend mandatory instruction on family purity and must undergo ritual immersion. Once the couple is wed, their union is recognized civilly and religiously. The problems arise with divorce, intermarriage and marrying an unrecognized (to the Orthodox Rabbinate) convert. Now, I don’t think I need to explain how fundamentally undemocratic it is to require people to get married in kangaroo ceremonies that have nothing to do with their belief system or lifestyle, not to mention the inhumane practice of chaining women in marriages. The separation of civil and religious marriage works just fine for Jews everywhere, so why this insistence on perpetuating the radically unfair status quo?
“But then we won’t know who is ‘kosher’ and our children might inadvertently marry gentiles or mamzers (bastards)…”
Ya’ know what, most countries with large Jewish communities, and even some small ones, have been very successful at keeping track of who is Jew. I know this because when I got married I had to demonstrate proof of my grandparents’ Jewish nuptials from Cairo, circa 1948. You want to marry Orthodox, do the leg work. You don’t care? Copasetic.
We love to call ourselves the only democracy in the region, a place where women are not (at least officially) subjugated, where there is freedom of speech, press and movement (at least for many, if not all, of our citizens) and where gays are not brutalized. There is one caveat: the Jews of Israel cannot get married without the approval of the Orthodox Rabbinical authority, which of course makes it highly unlikely that gay marriage will ever be recognized. For now, the cold comfort of bureaucratic compromise is that civil unions performed outside of Israel can be registered civilly. How shockingly liberal.
As I might have mentioned, repeatedly and without mercy, I am a straight, married, reasonably Orthodox woman. But, I do not feel that it is my right, or anybody’s right, to coerce the entire population of this democratic nation to subscribe to my weltanschauung. If Yair and Avi want to get hitched, it is no business of mine. If Chava and Einat want to start a family, wonderful! As Pierre Elliot Trudeau once said: “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
“But why do they have to be so flamboyant and have parades? We straight folk don’t have parades…”
Well, that’s because they have to. We don’t, despite the unjustifiable limitations of the aforementioned hegemony. This parade is the LGBT community’s expression of solidarity, and a means of peacefully demonstrating against state-endorsed discrimination. The African-American community demonstrated, the Women of and for the Wall demonstrate, the Suffragette movement demonstrated and the peace movement demonstrated. Today’s parade is a more fun, more colorful, more musical manifestation of one community’s demand for equal treatment. After all, we are the only true democracy in the region… except when it comes to who and how we get married.
“But it’s an abomination in the eyes of G-d!”
Really? To this I have only two things to say that are publishable: 1) How did you get G-d on the line, could I get His digits? I have so many questions. And 2) So what? Even if homosexuality was something that G-d frowned upon, that is between Him and His constituents.
So let’s be reasonable. It is none of my business who you want to marry. It is none of your business who I want to marry (except you, Mommy, that’s totally your business). And, finally, it is none of the government’s business who any of us consenting adults want to marry. Queer, secular, orthodox… we should all be able to break that glass.
I’m straight, but I am proud to support civil marriage for every member of Israel’s wonderfully rainbow-tinted population.