Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Separation of Church and State: why this Orthodox Jew supports gay civil rights

Since so many people seem to be confused by me and my position on gay rights, I thought I'd post a basic explanation.

Simply put: I support a separation of church and state.

I don't want the government passing laws simply as a basis for enforcing religious beliefs.

I also don't want the government telling me what to believe, or telling my rabbi what to do.

Make sense?

I've often used the line, "male homosexual sex is as morally bad as eating bacon-wrapped shrimp", and gotten a collective "huh?" in reply.

Yes, Leviticus has some harsh things to say about (male) homosexual acts. It also has harsh things to say about cross-dressing, and eating pork or shellfish.

Now, as an Orthodox Jew, I'm not going to argue that Leviticus is total garbage. On the contrary - I deliberately avoid eating pork or seafood.

I believe in religious freedom. If I want to follow Leviticus, that is my right. I don't feel that I have to defend my dietary restrictions to others.

On the other hand, I don't go around picketing Red Lobster. I don't carry signs saying "God hates shrimp". I don't protest the fact that advertisers see fit to air commercials with bacon at times that Jewish children can see them. I'm still close to my mom and sister, who think that bacon-wrapped shrimp is delicious. When I was looking to hire a law clerk, I didn't ask candidates for their views of shellfish. In short, I worry about my own religious observance, and see no need to shove my views down anyone else's throat. I have no right to assume that anyone else really cares what MY holy book says.

Combine the two together, and it's not just a cowardly mishmash, as some would suggest. It's something much greater: a formula for tolerance and religious co-existance.

As others have pointed out, tolerance is not the same as acceptance. It gets criticized because it doesn't seem nearly as warm and fuzzy. I would argue that it is actually more powerful. Acceptance is about expanding what you approve. Tolerance is what you need when you reach the limit of acceptance, and get to the point that there won't be agreement or approval. It means that everyone has certain rights and society needs to operate according to certain rules WHETHER OR NOT we happen to approve of someone.

So, the question of "what do you think of homosexual acts?" can be "who cares?" Unless you want to shoot the breeze on theology, it's just not relevant.

By the same token, living with tolerance means that I don't need to concern myself with what anyone thinks of the fact that I don't accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour (nor, for that matter, do I believe that Mohammad was the latest and greatest prophet). I can demand my civil rights anyway. I know history and current events well enough to know that this isn't something that I can take lightly.