Rabbis on all sides as gay marriage bill passes

Rabbis on all sides as gay marriage bill passes

Christie promises veto as NJ Senate votes for measure by 24-16

A last-minute effort by Orthodox opponents had no apparent effect as the New Jersey State Senate passed a measure legalizing gay marriage by a wider than expected 24-16 margin.

A vote in the State Assembly was scheduled for Feb. 16. Gov. Chris Christie has promised a veto; the Democrats who sponsored the bill have until the end of the legislative session in 2014 to override that veto.

In the Senate, that would require gaining three more votes.

Liberal rabbis welcomed the vote and urged Christie to sign the “marriage equality” bill into law.

Writing in The Star-Ledger, Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz of the Reform Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills opined that Christie’s veto would promote the theological understandings of one group over another, while depriving “some citizens of the rights enjoyed by others.”

“What possible interest can the state have,” wrote Gewirtz, “in drawing a distinction between the relationships of these committed couples and those of their heterosexual friends?”

His essay was written with the Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, and the Rev. E. Roy Riley Jr., bishop of the NJ Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

On Sunday night, before the vote, an Orthodox group calling itself Torah Values Defense placed what it said were 25,000 “robocalls,” urging NJ residents to call their state senator in opposition to the bill.

Rabbi Nosson Leiter of Monsey, NY, a TVD organizer and spokesman for the Lakewood-based Garden State Parents for Moral Values, called the bill “very anti-Torah, anti-moral, anti-American.”

Leiter was one of two Orthodox rabbis who testified in opposition to gay marriage in committee hearings last month, along with Rabbi Moshe Bresler of Lakewood. Ten rabbis — from Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist congregations — testified in favor.

The two state-wide Orthodox organizations that regularly lobby in Trenton — the Institute of Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel — did not testify at last month’s hearings.

Instead, the OU worked with the legislation’s lead sponsors, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Sen. Ray Lesniak, to include protections for the religious liberties of institutions opposed to same-sex marriage.

In a statement, the OU repeated its opposition “to the redefinition of marriage” and the legislation, while expressing gratitude for the protection of their religious liberty.

“Disturbingly, in too many states, those acting on their religious beliefs have seen government benefits withheld; government funds, contracts, and services denied; and privileges such as tax exemptions revoked. We are hopeful that New Jersey’s bill will be enacted and enforced in a manner that ensures that this will not happen here and that employers, social service providers, and houses of worship will be free to uphold their faith,” said the statement.

Rabbi David Greenstein of Congregation Shomrei Emunah, a Conservative congregation in Montclair, compared opponents of gay marriage to inhabitants of Sodom.

“The real sin of Sodom,” he said, citing the Talmud, is “to be opposed to someone deriving a benefit where their derivation of benefit causes no harm.”

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