Irene Rabinowitz
New Englander by birth, Israeli by choice.

Marriage Equality and Death by Rooftop

In May of 2004, marriage equality came to Massachusetts. On the first day that same gender couples could legally be married, I was living in Provincetown, Massachusetts which is a town with a large gay population. The town clerk, ready for the onslaught, trained a group of volunteers to distribute and assist people with applications for licenses. CNN had a truck outside of the historic town hall as did the major networks. I volunteered that day and helped some couples who had been together for more than thirty years, some elderly who never thought they would live long enough to see their relationships become legal. It is now more than ten years later and all of the disasters that people thought would happen have not happened. No one has married their sibling, there is no polygamy, and heterosexual marriage has not suffered. Actually, nothing earthshaking happened.  Just people getting married.

Now the United States Supreme Court has ruled that the states cannot ban marriages between same gender couples.   This is good.  Life in the United States, as it is here in Israel, is good for gay people (I’m using gay to avoid having to avoid typing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc.  every time).  No executions for being gay, no being thrown in Jail for private chat discussions (this happened in Egypt to a gay man earlier this week) and no honor killings.

Now that this major goal of the gay movement has been met, the challenge is for this savvy movement to take on the hatred that is killing gay people in Iran, Islamic State controlled Syria and Iraq and the discrimination that occurs in every Islamic nation.

I read the story of John Calvin (not his real name, he has said), a young gay Christian who is seeking asylum in Canada because he believes if he returns to the Palestinian Authority controlled area where his family is, that he will be killed because he is gay and converted to Christianity. When I see photos of gay men being thrown off of rooftops in Iraq and Syria, my stomach turns.  If these photos are real or not, I cannot confirm, but there have been many of them.  In in some of them, there are crowds of people watching as blindfolded gay men are being pushed to their death.  In Iran, the photos of gay men being hung were frequently released. Now, as the United States is close to allowing them to go nuclear, they have dialed it back, just saying that the frequent executions are for drug offenses or general offenses against Islam.

The other night, I attended a Boston Gay Men’s Chorus concert in Jerusalem. They were wonderful and the audience was appreciative. They referred to their tour here as a Middle East Tour. But in truth, it wasn’t. They came to Israel where they performed in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Ein Gedi (near the Dead Sea where the happily floated). They also went to Turkey, which I guess they thought made it a Middle East tour. But in reality, it was not. No Cairo, no Beirut, no Damascus, no Amman, no Baghdad, no Tehran, no Gaza City, no Ramallah. They would not be welcome and would have been at risk in any of those cities. Here, in Israel, they were cheered and welcomed everywhere they went. I spoke to a few members who had fallen head over heels in love with Israel. They got it.

But this is not about Israel, as much as I like to brag about our nation.  It is about the amazing political will of the gay movement in the United States which took on the ineffective early response to AIDS by the government, the health establishment and society in general. And did so successfully. Now there is marriage equality and what is next for them?  Some in the gay movement are virulently anti-Israel and supportive of the horrid BDS movement (by the way, every time you text someone, you are using Israeli technology). But I hope that those people are the few who seem not to see the irony of their support for those who would at the minimum hate them, at the maximum would wish or perpetrate violence against them.

But for those who want to take their advocacy to a new level, I have a suggestion: take that power, that political will, that belief in justice and fight for your gay brothers and sisters living and dying in Islamic nations. If the image of Christians being slaughtered by the Islamic State does not move you to action, think of the gay Christian and Muslim people who are dying because they are gay. The gay rights movement in the United States and Europe has been mainly about AIDS advocacy, equality in marriage and non-discrimination in employment. Each of those issues has been addressed successfully. It is time to remember those who are living in a hell that you can only imagine. Think about being dragged to a rooftop, blindfolded, hearing people cheering below, and then being thrown off of that rooftop. Because you are gay.

A successful fight for justice for yourself is one thing, but it is so much more powerful if you use that strength for those who have no one else to fight for them.


About the Author
Irene Rabinowitz made aliyah in November 2014 and lives in Jerusalem. Prior to making aliyah, she lived in a small odd town at the tip of Cape Cod for 28 years. She lived in New York City for 16 years as a young adult (or old child), but is a Rhode Islander by birth. Irene has served as a local elected official and retired from a long career in non-profit management at the end of 2013, after serving as the Executive Director of Helping Our Women for 18 years. While still consulting with NGOs in both Israel and abroad, she has most recently been the Director of Development at Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance.