Jewish groups react as SCOTUS makes gay marriage the law of the land

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26:  Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling announced last ­­Friday, approved same-sex marriage for residents in all 50 states.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” Kennedy wrote in his opinion in Obergefell v Hodges, joined by four justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

“Love is love. Ahava is ahava,” said Halley Cohen, director of GLOE – Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement at the DCJCC. “I was so proud of our community, which has been fighting for LGBTQ equality from the beginning.”

Matt Nosanchuk, liaison to the American Jewish community through the White House Office of Public Engagement, arrived at the Supreme Court at 6:15 a.m. and sat among other lawyers when the decision was announced. As soon as it was known that Kennedy would be delivering the majority opinion, he realized that his hopes had come true.

Nosanchuk said he expected the court to rule in favor of marriage equality as he had “read, studied and taught” all the court’s previous rulings on gay rights and had even been in the court when those decisions had been announced.

Still, he was “thrilled it was such a complete and total victory,” and that Kennedy based decision on due process and equal protection.

Looking around, he noticed “tears of joy,” he said, adding, “I was moved. I recognized history was unfolding before my eyes.”

Nosanchuk chose not to miss any of Friday’s history-making day. He left the courtroom to join in the celebration with others gathered on the court steps before rushing off to the White House’s rose garden to be present as President Barack Obama said, “But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.”

Nosanchuk was one of many Jews celebrating Friday. Of Jewish Americans, 78 percent favor marriage equality, according to data collected in a 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. Of that number, 47 percent strongly favor same-sex marriage.

Evan Wolfson, who founded Freedom to Marry in 2003, is generally considered the architect of the national marriage equality movement. The Pittsburgh native and Harvard-trained attorney has been in the trenches on the issue for 32 years.

“I was not surprised, but I was thrilled and moved and not a little relieved” after hearing the decision, he said.

“While I always believed we were going to win,” Wolfson said the text of the majority opinion was “extraordinarily powerful and resonant, and will have a real impact going forward.”

He was particularly moved, he said, by “the way that Justice Kennedy talked not only about the importance of marriage, but also the importance of including gay people.”

Many Jewish organizations — but not all — were pleased with the opinion. Both the Reform and Conservative movements employed phrases such as “moral victory” and “a magnificent achievement for our country” in describing their reactions.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said, “[t]oday the Supreme Court affirmed what has been clear for a long time: Same-sex couples deserve the same rights as opposite-sex couples.”

The ruling also “is about affirming the inherent dignity of same-sex couples and affirming that all people, regardless of whom they love, deserve the full protection of our Constitution,” Pesner said.

“As Jews, we believe we are all created in God’s image,” said Rabbi Hara Person, publisher and director of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Press. CCAR is Reform Judaism’s rabbinical leadership organization.

“All citizens of the United States should have the same rights” in financial, legal and other matters, said Person.

Matt Berger, senior advisor for strategic communications at Hillel International, said he stood among supportive friends and family when he was married to a man by two rabbis in a Jewish ceremony. Berger said the court’s decision “codifies what so many of us have always believed, which is that our relationships are absolutely equal and deserving of the same rights. The true victory is for those who have not been so lucky to be in such a supportive community.”

Maryland State Sen. Rich Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County 0 Democrat, was vacationing at the beach when he heard the news. “I am thrilled,” he said, pointing out that Maryland played a role in the historic decision.

Lead plaintiff James Obergefell was married in Maryland to John Arthur, who was suffering from the incurable disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; the couple could not be wed in Ohio, where they lived.  When Arthur died, Obergefell could not be listed on the death certificate as the surviving spouse, as Ohio did not recognize the couple’s marriage. Obergefell sued, and Richard Hodges became the respondent because he was the director of Ohio’s Department of Health.

U.S. Rep. Don Beyer called the decision “a watershed moment in American history.”

Beyer, a Northern Virginia Democrat, added, “Gay rights are human rights and today we have ensured that all Americans, regardless of their sexuality, have the right to share the rest of their lives with the person they love. I could not be prouder to stand with my LGBTQ constituents and celebrate this incredible moment.”

Both Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring praised the ruling, which Herring said protects the marriages of nearly 2,000 Virginia couples and “thousands more who have had their marriages recognized.”

He called the ruling “an extraordinary moment in our nation’s recognition that Americans cannot and will not be denied dignity, rights, and responsibilities, including those of marriage, simply because of who they love.”

And Rabbi Sonya Starr of the Columbia Jewish Congregation called it an “incredibly exciting step forward,” noting there are “many different paths to a sacred union.”

Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service and an advocate of gay rights around the globe, said, “After decades of tireless work to advance the rights of LGBT people, I’m in awe and in tears that we’ve reached a day when dignity has triumphed over discrimination. As the mother of a lesbian daughter, and with many close LGBT relatives and friends, today’s historic Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality has huge personal significance for me, for my family, and for so many of my friends and colleagues.”

Messinger pointed out that in 78 countries, members of the LGBT community face arrest, imprisonment or death “simply for who they are or whom they love.”

But not everyone supported the ruling, including the Orthodox Union, which noted that Judaism forbids homosexual relationships.

“Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable,” the organization said in a statement.

However, the OU cautioned that “Judaism teaches respect for others, and we condemn discrimination against individuals.”

And the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents Orthodox rabbis around the world, said it rejected the court’s definition of marriage. Rabbi Leonard Matanky, RCA president, said, “We remind all Americans of faith, Jewish and non-Jewish, that no court can change God’s immutable law. We will redouble our efforts to use persuasion to make the case for God’s eternal truths about the nuclear family and the bond between husband and wife.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

“The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie,” Scalia wrote.

Jim Campbell, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the ruling “stripped all Americans of our freedom to debate and decide marriage policy through the Democratic process.”

As people of differing views continue to discuss the court’s ruling, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs called for “sensitivity and civility in this debate, understanding that the vast majority on all sides are people of good will.”

WJW Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey W. Melada and The Jewish Chronicle Senior Staff Writer Toby Tabachnick contributed to this report.

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