Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld’s Sermon on Same-Sex Marriage: An Appreciation

01.07.2013, 4:44 PM

If you want to read a good sermon, I sincerely recommend “Same Sex Marriage in America,” delivered on December 15, 2012, by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Washington, D.C.

Check out this argument.  Rabbi Herzfeld first argues that the Torah prohibits homosexual conduct and that, accordingly, gay marriage should not be institutionalized within Orthodox Judaism.  He goes on, however, to argue in favor of changing U.S. civil law to permit same-sex marriage, on the grounds that Jewish law and civil law are two different things, and on the grounds of basic fairness to gay and lesbian people and couples.

But he’s just getting warmed up.  He further argues that he can discern no good reason for moral disapproval of homosexual conduct; he doesn’t know why the Torah prohibits it.  And on those grounds, he argues that, from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, homosexual conduct is not a moral sin, but instead (using a word that is not familiar to me) a chok, or “a prohibition whose violation should not carry our outrage or moral disapproval.”  He compares the (to my mind, technical) violation within Orthodox Judaism of engaging in homosexual conduct to the violation of “a Jew who decides to wear a garment made of wool and linen.”

And what is the moral basis of Rabbi Herzfeld’s argument?  Well, let him answer:

Because who are these Gay people? They are not the other. They are not distant. They are our family.

In parashat Miketz the brothers of Yosef are distraught when their brother Shimon is held as a prisoner in Egypt. The ransom for Shimon is the appearance of their other brother, Binyamin.  Yaakov does not want to send Binyamin down to Egypt. Yaakov says, Shimon is in jail and Yosef is lost. I don’t want to lose Binyamin as well.

Then Yehudah, the father of the future Mashiach, says the words that qualify him to be the savior and leader of our people. He says: “Anokhi e-ervenu (Genesis 43:9), I will bear responsibility.” I am responsible for Shimon. I am responsible for Binyamin.

I know the folks of our congregation. I know that when we speak about persecution of Gay folks we are not speaking about the persecution of a distant other. It is the persecution of our friends, of our brothers and sisters—literally, of our sons and daughters, and of our parents.

Whose job is it to raise a voice against the persecution of our own family? The holiday of Chanukah teaches us that it is our job: Each of us must say, ‘Anokhi e-ervenu, I will bear responsibility.’

I am deeply moved by this sermon.   What moves me is not so much his conclusion, his “position” on the policy issue, but instead the way he argues, the way he appears to sees the world and his role in it.  (Yes, patient friends, we are back on the topic of epistemology.)  You have to read the whole sermon to see what I mean.

What I admire so deeply is his epistemological realism.  He says up front that he is offering his “opinion” on these issues, and that some people of learning and good will, including some within his congregation, are likely to disagree with him – a situation which he appears to view not only as acceptable, but normal and even healthy. (Already, as a reader, it’s becoming easier for me to breathe.)

Yes, he’s standing there in the pulpit, a man wearing the cloak of authority, a man of religion.  But he is not declaring, or explicating from on high for our edification, things that he insists are objectively true.  He does not ask us to believe that he is somehow channeling the voice of Nature and Nature’s God. He is not giving us comprehensive answers to all questions, and most of all, he’s not beating our heads with formal definitions and doctrines. On the contrary. He is a learned man offering his considered and serious view on a difficult set of issues.  He quotes from learned and famous dead men from his own tradition whose writings tend to support his views, but he also says that other learned and famous dead men from the very same tradition said quite different things, and that even who said what, and why, on these issues, are not matters of settled fact.  (Now, I am breathing free and strong.)

And what I admire most of all, I think, is his humanitarianism.  When all is said and done, when all the facts have been examined and the arguments laid out, what it comes down to, for him, is simply the recognition of the other as a member of his family.   As a Christian (and I hope he won’t be bothered by me saying this), it reminds me of Jesus.

I am not a scholar of religion and I’m a poor example indeed of Christianity, my own faith.  But I like to think that I can recognize, when I see one, a man who tries, in ways that others can admire, to do justice, loves mercy, and walk humbly with his God, and I think I just found one.

50 Responses to “Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld’s Sermon on Same-Sex Marriage: An Appreciation”

  1. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Funny what piece one reacts to. He goes out of his way yes to say people of good faith disagree on this–and then goes on to say our traditional understanding of marriage is persecution. My stomach clenched at that point, just as your lungs relaxed. These things are quite hard.

    But I’m glad to have read it.

  2. Maggie, he did not say, even indirectly, that traditional marriage = persecution. He said/implied that persecution exists; persecution can’t be ignored or defined away; persecution is a part of how we as a society think about gay people and gay marriage; and that that fact matters to him when thinking about the policy issue at stake. That is not the same as stating, customary marriage is persecution.

  3. Kevin says:

    It’s disappointing to keep reading articles and blogs where religious viewpoints are treated as relevant to the creation of public policy in the US. In eighth grade civics class, we learned that the US government does not, and cannot, make laws based on religious beliefs. Yet here we are, 40 years after I entered high school, going back and forth about same-sex marriage and the religious pros and cons of legalizing it.

    Did we become Iran or Saudi Arabia, and I didn’t get the memo? Christians are prohibited from having pre-marital sex, commit adultery or get divorced, yet all those things are unequivocally legally, and there is no effort to have those activities banned. Why? Because the government doesn’t make laws that recognize or promote religious beliefs; it makes laws that promote the general welfare and protect the public. And conform to the nation’s constitution.

    The Mormons don’t drink caffeinated beverages. Will Coke and Pepsi be outlawed soon, or are Mormons simply tasked with not partaking of those legal and widely available beverages? Why do we treat the legal right to marriage differently from caffeinated beverages? Why does NOM want to boycott Starbucks, yet the Mormons don’t?

    Whatever your feelings about legal same-sex marriage, it certainly has exposed some major misunderstandings about our nation’s legal system and the crafting of public policy!

  4. David Blankenhorn says:

    Kevin: Did you read what the man said? He DOES distinguish between religion and civil law — that’s part of his whole point! Your comment strikes me as generic boilerplate, and not very responsive at all to what is interesting, and even unique, about how this man is arguing his case (which, by the way, is FOR civil gay marriage).

  5. Diane M says:

    Maggie Gallagher, the rabbi talks about persecution and how it is wrong before he talks about marriage.

    In the end, he is not arguing that it’s persecution to be against gay marriage, he’s arguing that not allowing civil marriage for same sex couples might create an atmosphere where other people persecute gays.

    And the rabbi is against gay marriage. He just doesn’t think it’s a wrong that should be condemned as strongly as other acts. So he’s willing to allow a secular version of it in America.

    It’s a very nuanced, interesting view and a moving sermon. Thanks, David Blankenhorn.

    Great quote from the rabbi’s sermon:

    “We must actively work to protect our Gay brothers and sisters from being shunned, ostracized, and dehumanized. We must embrace the Gay community, pray with them and sing with them, and together light the flame for freedom in the land.”

  6. Jeanne Damus says:

    In 2013 America, religious groups hold sway in public policy debates, in their adoption, and in their implementation, for better or worse. Hearing respected religious leaders endorse an idea clears the way for many people to accept those ideas. It gives them permission in a sense.

  7. Kevin says:

    David, take a deep breath. My point is that we need to stop listening to religious figures and their inputs into secular/public policy, as if their religious perspective matters. They’re are irrelevant, except in the most generic sense. We don’t make laws, decide how to respond to climate change, raise or lower taxes, engage in wars, etc., based on religious texts, or how representatives from religious groups feel about such matters. It doesn’t matter what side they’re on: religiosity is not a useful basis for making public policy in a secular country like ours.

    Why? Because laws and public policy impact everybody, not just religious people. We don’t make Americans practice a religious belief or ritual against their will. Unless, evidently, they’re gay Americans. Straight Americans get a pass, since pre-marital sex, adultery and divorce are all perfectly legal.

    This is not a small matter. We tend to disdain places like Iran, in part, because of the government’s ability to impose religious beliefs. I thought we had this all ironed out in America, and then same-sex marriage came along. We seem to be back to square one on a very basic understanding of what our country is and how it works. Very discouraging.

    Go ahead and mock me by calling my viewpoint “boilerplate” but I am trying to realize the authentic America, one where Christians no more want to have Muslim beliefs systems imposed on them than gay Americans want to have Christian belief systems imposed on them. And certainly not an America where the dominant straight Christians let themselves practice any and all versions of, and deviations from, biblical Christianity, but force gay Americans, Christian or not, into some religious perception of what legal marriage is.

  8. Chris says:

    Kevin, the rabbi in this case is making precisely the same argument–that religious dogma should not control public policy. You don’t seem to be responding to his argument, but to the religious right.

  9. Greg Popcak says:

    I teach a college course on the sociology of religion, and in that course, I examine the different ways religions engage the world.

    There is a difference between Jewish and Christian views of engagement with the outside world. Judaism is, ultimately, for the Jews. It is not interested in saving the world. It is committed to preserving Judaism. Period. It doesn’t matter what the gentiles do because the gentiles are other. Also, the Jewish sense of law is not law as reason. It is law as revelation. One does not have to understand why the law is what it is. It is sufficient that YHWH says it is the law. Based upon the Jewish understanding of law and the way Judaism relates to the world around it, I am not surprised at the good Rabbi’s conclusions.

    Christianity, by contrast, is a faith of incarnation and engagement. The Christian may not separate himself from the world because he is intimately tied up in Christ who came to redeem the world–the entire world, not just the few, proud chosen. The Christian must intimately and radically concern himself with the plight of those around him–including the unbeliever–because by the very act of the incarnation, all of humanity–including unbelieving humanity–is sacred, “divinized.” In the words of Athanasius, “the Son of God became man so that man might become gods.”

    The Christian must stand as a sign to the world–and especially the unbeliever–of the divinized nature of the human person. When a person attempts to act in a manner that is beneath his dignity as a divinized person, the Christian is obliged to oppose that action,to the peril of his own life, because to do less is to betray the reason Christ came, that is, to restore us to the perfected state in which we lived before the Fall.

    Second, for the Christian, law is not law because God says so. It is law because it is reasonable. If a law is unreasonable it is unjust. But if a law is reasonable then it is universally applicable.

    It is not unjust to oppose gay marriage because it is not unjust to say that two things are radically different when they are, indeed, radically different. As you, yourself, argued, David, traditional marriage gives benefits to society that it is quiet clear that cohabitation and gay “marriage” do not. Therefore, they are different. It is not unjust to say that different things are, indeed, different and should be treated differently. There is nothing unmerciful about that. It is possible to be loving, in fact it is only possible to be authentically loving, and still retain the power to discern that X and Y are different from one another no matter how much we may wish in our mushy hearts that it was not so.

    Love divorced from truth is mere sentimentality. I wish you could see that. Rightly desiring something more, you’ve settled for so much less. It is profoundly sad to me. Unless you hold onto reason, you can’t have love either. I’d encourage you to read The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark. I think you would find it enlightening.

  10. ki sarita says:

    I’m surprised that he is so perplexed as to the prohibition on gay intercourse. In all other areas Judaism is exceptionally pronatal. This just goes to show you that even conservative religious streams are susceptible to sweeping cultural change.

  11. Ricardo says:

    Wow, people have family who smoke, family who are depressed, date abusive boyfriends, or who are afraid to date anyone at all, who get into crime and fraud and pornography and prostitution and drugs…we are supposed to be for all these things too now, because we have to approve of everything our family members do now?

  12. ki sarita says:

    I suppose this is off topic but in Judaism, the verse against male homosexual intercourse is generally interpreted as specifically not pertaining to females. Judaism does not have a prohibition against lesbian sex, aside from its general pronatalism.
    (Be fruitful and multiply is considered the first divine command).

  13. ki sarita says:

    Note that while you may view Rabbi Herzfeld as a paragon of compassion, what he is offering is not enough for at least some devout gay jews- those for whom to be married according by the law of the land is not nearly as meaningful as to be married by the Law of Moses and Israel. And this he can not offer them.

  14. SexualMinoritySupporter says:

    Greg P, “It is not unjust to oppose gay marriage because it is not unjust to say that two things are radically different when they are, indeed, radically different. As you, yourself, argued, David, traditional marriage gives benefits to society that it is quiet clear that cohabitation and gay “marriage” do not. Therefore, they are different. It is not unjust to say that different things are, indeed, different and should be treated differently.”

    SMS- @GP, Obviously I would differ with you on the definition of “radically different” which your entire argument hangs on.

    What I think is interesting about the sermon is how after the gay Jews spent a Shabbat at Rabbi Herfeldz’s shul he comes out with this sermon. Obviously Herfeldz’s was very touched by their stories of being shunnened by their Faith Community and he is not okay with that. I have often thought that of all people, Jews and African Americans should be able to identify with the government sanctioned prejudice and discrimination against sexual minorities. “Treating different things differently” and “separate but equal” doesn’t cut it once you personally come to know a few sexual minorities just like Obama talked about when he came out for Civil Marriage for Sexual Minorities. The truth of the matter is, the only reason sexual minorities do not today have equal civil rights is because their oppressors, based on religion, have been successful, falsely portraying them as perverts. Religiously based animus is STILL animus. If we want to get into a Persecution Olympics I am sure there is a medal in there somewhere for sexual minorities, based simply on the sheer longevity of the persecution.

    How many times do I have to write, “The whole world isn’t Catholic’ quit forcing Catholic Doctrin onto the rest of us via our civil laws”? Now, here at least, we find Rabbi Herzfeld in 2013 realizing that. It is all about changing the world one person at a time. He had some devout Jews over for one Shabbat dinner and suddenly he realizes what has been going on, one more person changed.

  15. ki sarita says:

    “I have often thought that of all people, Jews and African Americans should be able to identify with the government sanctioned prejudice and discrimination against sexual minorities. ”

    To expect people to hold certain beliefs and opinions merely because of their ethnic, racial, or religious affiliations, is a form of bigotry. Jews and African Americans are entitled to have as wide a diversity of opinions as everyone else.

  16. Kevin says:

    Chris says:

    “Kevin, the rabbi in this case is making precisely the same argument–that religious dogma should not control public policy. You don’t seem to be responding to his argument, but to the religious right.”

    I am responding to the Rabbi’s explanation that we don’t completely understand what the Bible means on matters of sexual orientation, for example, so we are free to ignore this particular book in crafting our public policy.

    My point is, we don’t need his permission, or the permission of any other cleric, to deviate from religious beliefs or rituals, in order to make sound public policy that meets the needs of our society. Whether the Bible or Koran is clear or not on a matter, both are irrelevant in crafting public policy.

    Worse, the religionists are selectively lobbying for enshrining their beliefs in law, to the detriment of an already maligned minority (and their children).

    Religiosity and hypocrisy make for a very sordid outcome, as we’ve seen with same-sex marriage.

    Greg says:

    “The Christian must stand as a sign to the world–and especially the unbeliever–of the divinized nature of the human person.”

    Maybe, but the Christian has no right to force his beliefs on others through the law, or at gunpoint. Religious belief and practice is ALWAYS voluntary in the United States. If you don’t believe me, try passing a law in the US that requires that all citizens stop five times per day while kneeling and facing Mecca. I think you’ll get some pushback.

    Surely a part of evangelizing the faith is to not turn people off to it. Many people are quite turned off to Christianity and particularly Catholicism, based on the words and deeds of “faith-based” groups like NOM, as well as the words and deeds of individuals proclaiming their faith drives them to marginalize gay and lesbian citizens. To wit, is same-sex marriage so important that it’s worth driving legions of believers and potential believers away from the faith?

  17. JHW says:

    For what it’s worth, Orthodox Judaism does in fact prohibit lesbian sex. It might be possible to assimilate the prohibition on homosexuality into the general encouragement of procreation in Jewish law, but it is not straightforward to do so, because it is not generally seen as prohibited in Orthodox Judaism to marry or have sex when there is no chance of procreation (e.g., with a post-menopausal woman), and because most of the time the prohibition is not actually in any meaningful way pronatal (because the alternative for gay men and lesbians is celibacy, rarely a successful, procreative different-sex marriage.)

    Greg Popcak and Ricardo, in different ways, show a misunderstanding of what the Rabbi is saying. On my reading, he does not disclaim Jewish involvement in politics or advocacy based on moral considerations, including moral considerations based on religious traditions. Rather, he stresses that purely religious considerations should not be the basis for political involvement. Since he does not see the prohibition on homosexuality as a moral prohibition, there is no reason to disapprove of it generally in the secular world or to support secular laws that discourage and discriminate against it. The same does not apply generally to any behavior a person might name.

  18. mythago says:

    @Greg Popcak, I am getting the strong impression, from your comment, that what you teach is “why Christianity is better than Judaism and is ultimately true”. Your claim that Jews don’t care about the world or about Gentiles, or that Jews simply accept the Law as handed down without question is very much at odds with both Jewish theology and Judaism as it’s practiced, and you throw in a few gratuitous bits of snark (“the few, the proud, the chosen”).

    I’m not really interested in a which-is-better argument, but I think it’s inappropriate and uncivil of you to present a Christian supercessionist view of others’ faith as objective truth.

    @Kevin, you’re rather missing the point. I doubt Herzfeld would say that anyone needs his permission to decide what civil law should be. He’s not presenting his sermon to the Congress, but to a religious gathering, and explaining why even though his and their faith prohibits same-sex marriage, it should lead them to support civil same-sex marriage. People’s moral beliefs, including those stemming from religion, already influence their views on morality and public policy. He is not arguing that Jewish law should be civil law. He’s telling the congregation that the beliefs they adhere to should lead them to support same-sex marriage.

    Which is, I think, precisely what prompted Ms. Gallagher’s outburst. One of the canards of opposition to marriage equality is that it’s a divide between people of faith and unbelievers, and that supporting SSM means oppressing religion. And here is a distinguished leader of a very conservative faith saying that isn’t true; that what marriages are permitted by his religions is a separate issue from what marriages are permitted by the civil government.

  19. Karen says:

    From what I understand, the marriage debate (definition of marriage on a civil level) is not based on religion. There are many secular reasons behind the defense of defining civil marriage as a 1 man/1 woman institution.

  20. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Kevin, your point of view about the relationship between religion and government is naive. You may well have been taught this. But the people who actually founded this country and drafted our constitution had no such French secularist view of the relationship between religious people and their government.

    To say that a moral belief is illegitimate in the public square because it has a religious basis demonstrates a profoundly illiberal view.

    The American system is designed to guarantee the free expression of religion, not its suppression.

    And it has lead to more comity between religous people than any other system. Except with secularists who reallly really want to be able to oppress and exclude religiously informed views.

    David, I was speaking of the “air” “breathing freely” i.e. the emotional reaction to his way of reasoning. This of course is not the same thing as the cognitive content of his argument.

    But he clearly concludes that even though he cognitively acknowledges it is possible to oppose gay marriage without wanting to persecute, that his duty to end persecution requires him to be for gay marriage.

    That transition caused a sharp constriction in my ability to breath easily, just as you started to feel you were in congenial and humanitarian air.

  21. mythago says:

    @Karen, interestingly, the rabbi is not talking about secular reasons. He is talking about why his faith requires him to support marriage equality – just as others here argue that their faith requires them to oppose it.

  22. ki sarita says:

    I agree that the secular argument against gay marriage is strong and coherent, but the fact is that its proponents are in the minority. The dominant voice opposing gay marriage is the religious one and/ or the bigoted one. So as an opponent of SSM I can still see his point, that opposing gay marriage mean aligning with folks whose goals and agendas are very different from what ours our.

  23. Karen says:

    That’s a catch 22 if I’ve ever heard one. Maybe that’s the reason why secular proponents of the defense of 1 man/1 woman marriage are in the minority?

  24. Chris says:

    Maggie Gallagher:

    But he clearly concludes that even though he cognitively acknowledges it is possible to oppose gay marriage without wanting to persecute, that his duty to end persecution requires him to be for gay marriage.

    That transition caused a sharp constriction in my ability to breath easily, just as you started to feel you were in congenial and humanitarian air.

    I can see why being told you are persecuting others might cause you to have such an emotional reaction. I wonder if you can imagine a similar stomach clenching felt by the many gay people who are actually being persecuted, especially when they read extremely hate-filled anti-gay rhetoric coming from organizations such as NOM.

  25. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Chris, the inability to imagine our disagreement as being anything other than hatred and persecution is the heart of the problem, in my view.

    Believe me I understand your point of view, I’m exposed to it frequently.

  26. Maggie Gallagher says:

    The decision to ratchet up rather than ratchet down–perhaps a mutual one as David likes to point out, between partisans in this debate, is a choice.

    When people says they are prolife, it would be possible for others who disagree to react by saying things like “You are expressing hatred towards my sister!” But mostly they don’t. They try and work to create space for radically different moral views.

    We don’t on this. We don’t. David would say on either side and perhaps that is true.

    The definition of what counts as horribly hateful towards gay people has been ratcheted way up. “Marriage is the union of husband and wife because children need a mom and dad” now counts.

    I’m frequently accused of saying hateful things. When I am asked what counts as hateful, its usually some translation of what I said that is not what I said or believe.

    David has said doubt is good thing. I do not find most gay marriage advocates have any doubt at all. About their own opinion or about the evil of their opponents.


    The challenge for me has been to try to take in what I can of this, without responding with hatred–to become what you think of me.

    No doubt I’ve failed, but I keep trying.

  27. fannie says:


    You speak of “the” inability to imagine the disagreement as being anything other than hatred and persecution.

    Are you saying that both sides of the SSM debate suffer from this inability? Or just one side?

    I often see religious opponents of SSM argue that they are being, or would be, persecuted were SSM to become widely legalized in the US. That’s the very basis of many messaging campaigns by anti-SSM groups, as you know.

    What would be better, more productive, more accurate ways for people on both sides to “imagine” the disagreement, in your opinion?

  28. ki sarita says:

    Actually having had an abortion I do feel personally attacked when people compare abortion to murder, but yes, I do have to address their position on more rational grounds than my personal offense.

  29. Karen says:

    I wrote:
    That’s a catch 22 if I’ve ever heard one. Maybe that’s the reason why secular proponents of the defense of 1 man/1 woman marriage are in the minority?

    I’d just like to add that to me personally, a person who came to this conclusion for purely secular reasons, it has opened up a whole new sincere appreciation for those who defend marriage on religious grounds. For example: I was prejudiced against Catholics at one time, but after listening and learning from people like Maggie Gallagher, I am now a very much a respectful friend. In fact I’d say it feels like family to me.

  30. Ned Flaherty says:

    Greg Popcak, your long, logical labyrinth trying to justify oppressing LGBT families relies, ultimately, on only one premise: you view them as “radically” different from other families, and for that perceived radicalism you would deny them equality and fairness.

    American society no longer views LGBT families as different enough to rationalize denying them social justice. You do, but remember that perceiving other persons as “radically” different so as to deny them their human rights is the foundation from which all bigotry flourishes.

    You wrote — incorrectly — that same-gender marriage “gives no benefits to society.” That’s untrue. It does. In fact, not only do childless same-gender marriages provide all the benefits that childless opposite-gender marriages provide, but LGBT-parent families provide all the benefits that opposite-gender-parent families provide. In fact, same-gender parents are more likely to adopt than opposite-gender parents are, which actually puts same-gender marriage ahead of opposite-gender marriage. There is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence supporting your claim of zero societal benefits.

    You accused same-gender marriage supporters (now the majority of American society) of having “mushy hearts,” but realize that the incorrect assumption that same-gender marriage provides society with zero benefits could be the result of a “mushy brain.”

  31. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Fannie, you ask a very good question.

    I’m sure that it is true that both sides are contributing this. One of the things that makes this hard, is that we are in a time a rapid rapid transition.

    Who has power and the responsibilities that power entails? Its not clear right now.

    One of the reasons I’ve felt fewer obligations to represent the gay community’s point of view, is that I feel it is so well represented and so culturally empowered while the point of view of millions of other Americans is just disparaged by the culturally powerful–dismissed and disparaged–not just disagreed with .

    But that may be morally wrong of me. Gay people are a minority and experience a great deal of emotional harm still–yes I do remind myself of that. But the gay point of view is now culturally dominant.

    Hatred towards traditional religious believers is openly sanctioned as morally justified. We deserve it.

    This is a moral belief, but also a tactic–and one that is working.

    One of the reasons I left running an activist organization is that I want space to think. I don’t know if this is an answer to your question, but I will keep thinking about it.

  32. mythago says:

    “Openly sanctioned” by whom? Certainly the rabbi whose post is quoted follows a very traditional, conservative faith, yet he is not claiming oppression or that being opposed to same-sex marriage in his faith garners him “hatred”.

    Karen, what’s the catch-22?

  33. Karen says:


    Catch-22 [kach-twen-tee-too] Show IPA
    noun, plural Catch-22′s, Catch-22s.
    a frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.
    any illogical or paradoxical problem or situation; dilemma.
    a condition, regulation, etc., preventing the resolution of a problem or situation; catch.

    To speak in out in defense of the secular/civil defense/definition of marriage requires on to align oneself with those who’s views you do not necessarily agree with and/or be put in the same basket and attacked as such.

  34. ki sarita says:

    Ned, reading your response, I wonder whether it is really true that the dominant voice against gay marriage is the bigoted one, or if it is only so because the pro- advocates have endeavored so hard to cast it so (leading more reasonable voices to jump ship!).
    Greg did not say what you said he said and he did not say it in any bigoted fashion.

  35. La Lubu says:

    Greg Popcak, I find your response illustrates precisely the reason that a separation of church and state is crucial for a civil society—to check the arrogance and social/cultural power of religious institutions that would otherwise deny the right of people to find truth and spiritual sustenance in any worldview other than their own. Obnoxiously claiming to hold and support the sole source of Truth is far from “authentically loving”. Let me put it this way—it’s like inviting me to dinner, yet cooking a fine meal with a main ingredient that I am allergic to; your intent does not diminish the toxicity of the result.

    The rabbi’s response is an illustration of how to balance living in a secular society while holding to religious practices and beliefs that are sometimes in conflict within that society.

    There isn’t a secular argument against SSM as long as the practice of that argument is to treat nonprocreative different-sex couples differently from same-sex couples. The basis for allowing nonprocreative different-sexed couples (like older couples) to marry is religious in nature; to prohibit their marriage would be to force them to choose between their religion (if it prohibits sexual activity between unmarried couples) and their state (legal marriage). Prohibition of marriage between same-sex couples is also religious in nature; a cultural carryover from a time when religion and the state were more intertwined (like organized Christian prayer in the public schools).

  36. fannie says:


    Thanks for your response. I can respect that you left an activist organization for the reason you stated.

    I can also agree that hatred toward religious people is common. I’m not sure I’d say this hatred is dominant or super powerful, given that it’s very much a de facto pre-requisite for holding public office to be religious, and preferably Christian. And, I also think some of this animosity toward religion is in reaction toward some aspects of some religion that people find to be hateful and otherwise problematic.

    But, I will say that one of the reasons I, as someone who is mostly agnostic, don’t really engage in atheist blogs or communities is because they are really uncivil (and are not female feminist friendly, but that’s a whole other can of worms).

    About your earlier comment that the following argument now counts as hatred:

    “Marriage is the union of husband and wife because children need a mom and dad”

    It hasn’t been my experience that this argument how counts as hateful, but if that is your experience then I’m not going to sit here and tell you that that’s not your experience.

    I wouldn’t call that argument hateful as calling it hateful would require knowledge of someone’s malicious intent.

    I do think it’s an unsatisfying argument intellectually though. It packs a lot of assumptions and generalizations into one tidy phrase, assumptions and generalizations that are still quite debatable and contentious given current research and actual same-sex families life experiences, and presents them as absolute truth.

    It is an argument that not only takes for granted that marriage is about procreation, but also logically implies that same-sex couples are intentionally depriving their children of something very important they need- a father or a mother.

    When people are accused of something borderline or maybe outright abusive like deprivation, I think it’s kind of natural for them to react strongly and…. not well. I can understand why people might call that argument hateful, even if I don’t necessarily think that everyone who makes that argument have hateful intent.

  37. La Lubu says:

    Maggie, you say that the “gay point of view is now culturally dominant”. I think you need to spend more time in the midwest United States, where bullying and gay-bashing are still going strong, and losing one’s job for being gay or lesbian is quite common. This happens even in “blue” states like Illinois. It sounds incredibly dismissive for you to imply that respect for gay and lesbian people is the norm, when it very clearly is not.

  38. Ned Flaherty says:

    Karen wrote — incorrectly — that defending a civil definition of marriage “forces a person to algin with those with whom they disagree, and/or to be seen and attacked as such.”

    That’s untrue.

    Merely expressing an opinion never forces anyone to align in ways they don’t wish to. And anyone who can think logically and speak clearly isn’t seen or attacked as someone that they are not (any more than everyone else is).

    This bugaboo of “persecution” for one’s own ideas is a false notion that’s repeated most often by that minority of Americans who use superstition as the basis for forcing their religious beliefs upon everyone else through civil law.

  39. Karen says:

    Well, Ned, here on this blog I have been on the receiving end of quite a bit of attack, people making broad assumptions about my intentions and logic.

    If I wasn’t intimately involved with the IAV (via my involvement with “donor” and repro-tech issues, I’d have run for the hills long long long ago.

    I have no doubt there is absolutely no bugaboo about repression of expression and “persecution” in relation to this “debate”.

  40. JHW says:

    Traditional religious believers in the United States, at least Christian traditional religious believers, can take a lot of things for granted that gays and lesbians cannot. They are protected by federal civil rights law and by ruling interpretations of the US Constitution. Their relationships with their spouses are recognized by all fifty states and by the federal government without any difficulty. Their access to adoption is unimpeded and they can trust that their legal parentage won’t be questioned on account of who they are. They are generally accepted by their parents. They make up a large portion of the population and wield substantial political power in all fifty states. No law in any state includes in public-school curricula lessons that condemn their religious views and practices as “not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public”, nor do states retain in their codes laws criminalizing those views or practices. Their basic social acceptance, and the nondiscrimination norms that follow from that, is taken for granted and is not a political issue. They are rarely at risk from hate violence or police harassment.

    The same, unfortunately, is not true of gay people, who do not live on the set of “Glee.”

    What traditional religious believers face, instead, is something quite different. They live in an increasingly secular society where many people no longer agree with their moral claims or accept their traditional sources of moral authority. Views that were once matters of consensus are now highly contested. Certain kinds of secular cultural media are disproportionately made by people that do not agree with them, who, indeed, often find their moral beliefs absurd and indefensible. (This is probably not true for cultural media in general, on a good definition of “culture” that includes the many forms of religious messaging that pervade our society, or conservative talk radio, or other media institutions that are not generally seen as dominated by pro-gay viewpoints.) All of this gives them reason to believe that they are on the losing side of a culture war. And perhaps that is true. In fifty years, homosexuality will probably be as morally accepted as contraception is today. But it is not a culture war that is ever going to end in them being “persecuted.”

  41. Ned Flaherty says:

    Ki Sarita, yes, it is true that the dominant voice against same-gender marriage is the bigoted one.

    The reason it’s true is because bigotry isn’t a function of numbers: the bigoted voice (whether few or many) is bigoted against a victim (whether few or many) not because of the numbers involved on either side, but because of the ignorance, fear, and superstition behind the discrimination itself. The world can have one bigot or billions of them, or any number inbetween. Whether any attitude is a bigoted one depends not upon the number of people similarly prejudiced, but upon the logic behind that prejudice.

    Yes, Greg avoids bigoted “fashion” (as you wrote), but he still advocates a bigoted position (the fact that he avoids the fashionplate of bigotry doesn’t reduce the bigotry itself). He imagines LGBT families as “radically” different people, and uses that perception to justify denying them their human rights. That’s bigotry.

  42. ki sarita says:

    he said no such thing. he said gay marriage and same sex marriage are different. you even put quotes around words that he did not say, as if you were quoting him, when you were not.

  43. Karen says:

    I think it’s a form of bigotry to dismiss those with logical secular reasons to maintain or defend the 1 man/1 woman civil definition of marriage simply because the loudest voices against the practice are religious ones (or perceived – either rightly or wrongly – bigoted ones).

  44. Ned Flaherty says:

    Karen, if you’re having trouble finding evidence of the bugaboo about “persecution” then just re-read this article’s comment #1 from Maggie Gallagher.

    She imagines that people who are aware of her one-man-one-woman view of marriage see it as persecution, but conversely, she also fears she and her associates are being persecuted for their beliefs, and complains about “increasing efforts to stigmatize and marginalize us [traditional religious believers].”

  45. La Lubu says:

    Karen, my point is that it is illogical to treat nonprocreative different-sexed couples and nonprocreative same-sex couples differently in regards to marriage. If you can point me in the direction of an organized opponent of SSM who also concedes that nonprocreative different-sexed couples should be barred from legal marriage and advocates that marriage be redefined to exclude nonprocreative couples regardless of their sexual orientation, I would then have to concede that they were not acting out of a religious framework, but from a secular one in which the sole reason for marriage is the conception and raising of children.

    That is not and never has been the societal understanding of marriage in the Western world.

  46. Karen says:

    I have no doubt that people of beliefs are being stigmatized and marginalized. This is true also for those who support the secular defense of marriage as well. Most articles (posts) on the Huff Post are spin partisan propaganda, like the New York Times. Not a fan.

  47. ki sarita says:

    I find that idea absurd. The idea that because SOME non-reproductive unions squeeze into a reproductive framework, means it is not a reproductive framework- is highly illogical.

  48. ki sarita says:

    but the point is not whether you and I agree with each other’s logic or not. The point is, can we disagree with the other’s logic without assuming bigotry?

  49. Karen says:

    No La Lubu, it is NOT illogical at all. Watching “What is Marriage? – Man and Woman: A Defense” LIVE right now: http://www.heritage.org/events/2013/01/what-is-marriage

  50. Ned Flaherty says:

    Karen, it’s clear that you believe that people are being persecuted. But you offer no examples.

    The view most frequently offered by evangelical Christians is this: whenever anyone exercises their religious right to enter into a same-gender marriage, some people of other faiths are being persecuted by that same-gender marriage.

    Can you explain, in concrete terms, exactly how you think one couple’s same-gender marriage persecutes any other couple?