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Posts Tagged ‘Church state conflict’

 

Several days ago I experienced a wonderful “first” as a rabbi. I officiated at my first legal same sex wedding in Florida. It was a marriage between two young women who joined my congregation about 4 years ago – when the idea of a legal wedding for them in Florida was unimaginable. One studied and converted to Judaism with me. A year and a half ago they had a beautiful baby girl. Among the photos displayed at their reception was one of me in the hospital holding their new baby. Of course I did the naming ceremony. This is a family I know well and care about deeply.

Our time under the chupah together was emotional and beautiful. They had circled each other before coming under the chupah. The usually more stoic one was in tears during the ceremony. The chupah itself was a symbol of family support and love as it was made from a tallit belonging to one of their fathers. I think my favorite moment was seeing their matching purple sneakers as each broke a glass at the end of the ceremony. As legalized same sex marriage is very new in Florida, you could feel the collective exhilaration of the wedding guests, almost like the entire room held its breath through the ceremony. In the aftermath, I am now wondering about what happens next.

Let me explain.

The first concern is whether this expression of equal rights is going to be short lived. The United States Supreme Court is about to issue a ruling that will either affirm or deny this right. I am not a student of the court, but from what I have read it will not be a shock if the court affirms and allows the continuation of marriage equality – which raises some new questions.

Let me explain.

A few days after the wedding I was at a meeting with 4 other clergy with whom I form a local “God Squad” that does monthly programs discussing civic issues from a faith perspective. This is under the umbrella of “The Village Square” an organization that promotes nonpartisan political dialogue. Besides me the group includes: a Catholic priest, a female Methodist minister, a Baptist minister, and an African American Christian minister (not sure of exact denomination name) . As we were wrapping up our planning session for the next season we shared news with each other. I mentioned that I had just performed the wedding. The Baptist pastor commented, “That is what I love about this group, we are all so different.”

The reactions of the other clergy were interesting. The priest smiled and said nothing. It is clear that he cannot support same sex marriage as it goes against the teachings and dictates of the Church. The Methodist smiled approvingly. The African American minister smiled in amusement (he does not support same sex marriage). Their reactions made me realize that same sex weddings do not conform to the beliefs and practices of a large swath of the American religious community. Now I must ask, what happens next? How, assuming the Supreme Court affirms the rights of same sex couples to marry, does the country proceed?

We have a glimpse of a possible future in the conflict between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church over health care provisions requiring Church institutions to provide coverage for birth control as part of their health care packages. Those supporting the government’s position see this as a right due the employees that overrides religious doctrine. Those opposed to the administration’s position see this is government overreach by intruding onto religious grounds. It is easy to wonder if there will be an attempt to require clergy to perform same sex weddings assuming the right is upheld by the court.

But I hope it does not come to that. I really do. As much as I support the right of couples to get married, I shudder when I think about government intrusion into religious areas. I know many rabbis who will not perform interfaith weddings.   If the right of a couple to get married trumps the right of the clergy to decide which weddings to perform, can these rabbis be forced to perform interfaith weddings?

What makes the question of intrusion into clergy decisions even more important is that we tend to reduce those with whom we disagree to caricatures. We mock them as “Neanderthals” or as “bigots.” Yet I will tell you that the other clergy who are part of my discussion group are all beautiful souls, deep thinkers, and very dedicated to the betterment of the greater Tallahassee community. They are deeply committed to their religious values. They are not condemning my officiating of a same sex wedding, but for each of their own reasons, they will not do it themselves. I, in turn, respect their positions.

Every religious group must find its own way through these issues. I cannot and will not endorse governmental interference in how any religious group decides what weddings to perform. We tread a fine line in finding the balance between personal rights and the right to religious convictions. In truth the affirming of the rights of same sex couples to marry is also an affirmation of my right as clergy to perform that wedding. It is an affirmation that it is up to each religious organization and their clergy to decide who they will or will not marry. I hope that is the status quo we can maintain.

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