AJN Letters: Marriage Equality – Responses to Rabbis Gutnick & Ingram – November 9 2012

9 November 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

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We should not impose our laws on society

I WAS displayed by Rabbi Moshe Gutnick’s column about same-sex marriage (AJN 26/11).  He raises and then dismisses the key point that civil, non-religiously affiliated celebrants can perform legally recognised marriages in Australia.

Contrary to his claim, this is indeed an indication that the civil status of marriage is not based on a “Judeo-Christian, and indeed biblical, foundation”.

Speaking of a biblical foundation, I find it especially interesting that Rabbi Gutnick then raises a “slippery slope” argument that approving same-sex marriage would lead to the permitting of a marriage between a man and two women because in the recent parshah, Vayetze, Yaakov enters into that exact relationship with Rachel and Leah!

Australia prides itself on multiculturalism, and one of its most attractive features is the lack of religious influence in its civic life. I’m sure it would not occur to Rabbi Gutnick to insist that other marriages forbidden to Orthodox Jews, such as marriage between a Cohen and a divorcee, should be forbidden by civil law in Australia.  Similarly, Jewish law regarding marriages and homosexuality should not be imposed on the larger Australian community.

South Yarra, VIC

Australia not beholden to the Jewish view

Rabbis Moshe Gutnick (AJN 26/10) And Chaim Ingram (AJN 19/10) have very different approaches, but each does not deal with the fundamental issue.  Rabbi Gutnick’s comment on the place of Judeo-Christian ethic in Australia is misplaced.  The only mention of God in relation to the Australian Constitution is in the preamble to the Imperial (UK) Act, not in any operative provision of that Constitution, and the mention is that the people were “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”.  So am I.

Australian democracy is quite different to most.  Firstly, voting is compulsory.  The majority in Australia is not silent; it votes.  Secondly, voting is preferential.  The person elected represents a consensus of the majority in the electorate.

The combination of the two factors forces political parties to the centre; to appeal to the majority are not sectarian interests, who will then turn out to vote on one or more issues of concern.

Thirdly, Australia, despite its history of bigotry, particularly to blacks, gays and new immigrant groups, is extremely tolerant; laissez-faire, not moralistic.  It allows people to do what they like as long as it doesn’t interfere with them.

The best example is the Australian reaction to the AIDS epidemic. We did not suffer at the hands of religious bigotry.  We educated and provided needle exchange; and Australia was the only major western country in which the incidents of AIDS fell in the gay community and was never an epidemic in the heterosexual community.

Australia owes much to the Judeo-Christian ethic, but only indirectly, and we have significantly departed from it: e.g. stem cell research (inconsistent with Christian, but not Jewish, ethos); abortion; and same gender relationships.  Democracy is not a product of the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Rabbi Gutnick threatens polygamy and incest as the possible result if marriage is broadened.  He must have read the parshah: Abraham had three wives and married his niece!  Each act would be illegal in Australia.

The Judeo-Christian ethic (what Rabbi Ingram calls the conduct of Abraham, being over 6000 years old) allowed and encouraged polygamy (at least one male with more than one wife); it allowed slavery (up to six years); and it permitted Abraham to marry his niece, Issac his cousin, Esau his first cousin, Jacob his first two cousins (through both his mother and father).

Australia has determined that same gender relationships should be legal – they can be recognised as de facto couples. If the Judeo-Christian ethos prevailed, as Rabbi Gutnick suggests, this would not have occurred.

Perhaps same-gender marriages are not, in the Jewish view, made in heaven.  But the Jewish view does not prevail in Australia.  We do not live, thank God, in a theocracy; we live in a democracy.

The only issue is whether a couple legally living together (or who want to) should have the choice of marriage.  This change does not affect Orthodox Judaism, but it does effect true tolerance to those who are currently suffering discriminatory treatment.

And in the end, it’s about treating others as we would want to be treated (or not doing to them that which we would find hateful); everything else is just commentary.

Bondi Junction, NSW

Exceptions to the rights to marry

DICTIONARY definitions of marriage recognise “mutual relation of husband and wife” being “a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family”.

Justice Stephen Rothman (AJN 12/10) regards marriage as a universal rite with rights for all; however, Rabbi Gutnick (AJN 26/10) surely has debunked that assertion by reminding us that incestuous or polygamist marriages are not acceptable so rites and rights have some exceptions.  Why?  Because that is our Judaic tradition.

Respect, love the one’s fellow man, tolerance, diversity, compassion for weaknesses within us all and equal standing before our creator is a sine qua non also contained within our Judaic traditions.  For millennia, during times of upheaval, confusion and bedlam, we have been a light unto the nations and therefore let us not change widely understood definitions of marriage or the teachings of Torah that form the basis of civilised society and family in order to satisfy a vocal interest group.

Bondi Junction, NSW

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