Marriage Equality: Celebrating Success with More to Do
This week's parashah, Korach, reminds us of the importance of continuing to hold leaders accountable for full inclusion, regardless of setback or success. Specifically, we read about an uprising between the Israelites and Moses.
In Numbers 16:8-9 we read, “Moses said further to Korah, ‘Hear me, sons of Levi. Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has set you apart from the community of Israel and given you direct access, to perform the duties of the Eternal’s Tabernacle and to minister to the community and serve them?’” In other words, Moses tells the Israelites they should be content with their lot, despite their anger.
In response, “Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab; but they said, ‘We will not come! Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord it over us? Even if you had brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, and given us possession of fields and vineyards, should you gouge out those subordinates' eyes? We will not come!’” (Numbers 16:12-14).
In this passage, we encounter a deeply challenging exchange between the leader of the Israelites – Moses – and the community. We are reminded that even amid progress, full inclusion is an active and ongoing process. We must question leaders who ask, “Is this not enough?” when work remains to be done.
On June 26, 2015, the United States marked a fundamental victory in the fight for LGBTQ equality: The Supreme Court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage. This year, during Pride Month, communities across the nation, including the Reform Jewish community, are celebrating the great steps our nation has taken toward creating a world that supports and affirms all LGBTQ individuals.
This hard-won battle not only shifted the legal landscape concerning LGBTQ equality, but also the nation's moral conscience. Only three years before the Obergefell decision had President Obama announced his own support for marriage equality.
The Supreme Court’s decision was momentous. But it was part of a larger – and still unfolding – battle for LGBTQ equality. In a comment following the decision, the Human Rights Campaign stated, "No one ruling – and no one law – can finish the work of liberty and justice for all. That’s why the LGBT movement is today redoubling its efforts to full equality."
Indeed, the continuing fight for LGBTQ equality was front-page news earlier this month, when the Supreme Court sided with a cakeshop that refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple in Colorado. Although the ruling was based only on the facts of the case and left the door open for future cases to decide the fundamental issues at stake, the decision was a reminder that there is still work to do.
This week’s parashah reminds us of the importance of forging ahead regardless of our progress or our obstacles. So, while we honor the Obergefell decision as a landmark victory for the LGBTQ community, Reform Judaism remains deeply engaged in the fight to advance LGBTQ equality.
Sexual orientation and gender identity still are not considered protected classes at the federal level, so unlike the categories of religion, race or sex, discrimination without proper legal recourse is still possible, which is why the Reform community continues to support the passage of the Equality Act. We also are engaged in state-based activism to protect affected individuals in the absence of federal protections. In Massachusetts, we are sponsors of the Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign to keep intact a public accommodation law that protects all on account of gender identity, and whose repeal is threatened by a ballot initiative that could send dangerous signals around the nation. While this work happens in Massachusetts, our Urgency of Now: Transgender Rights Campaign continues to mobilize congregations across the country to ensure that all students, regardless of their gender identity, enjoy full protections in school.
Reform Jews also can engage in this fight individually by examining their own communities. LGBTQ groups like PFLAG have local chapters across the country that focus on issues at the local level and are often looking for volunteers. We also can look inward to our own synagogues. In this spirit, the Union for Reform Judaism’s Audacious Hospitality team has compiled a toolkit that focuses on LGBTQ inclusion in synagogues.
This week, as we read Korach, and as Reform congregations join in Pride Month celebrations, we also celebrate the anniversary of the Obergefell decision, even as we know a tremendous amount of work remains ahead of us.