Rabbi Shamir Caplan issues compelling statement supporting Orthodox Jews who wish to vote Yes on marriage equality



For several years, this is the response I have given to people who have asked about whether it is acceptable for Orthodox Jews to support civil recognition of Marriage Equality.

Those who know me are aware of my strong stance on the importance of acceptance, inclusivity, and dignity for all people. Here, let me address the issue from a more legal-philosophical perspective, which I think has a broader appeal in the Orthodox community.

Let me begin by asking a different question. If we lived in a society in which Freedom of Religion was not enshrined in law, would it be permissible for Orthodox Jews to vote YES if asked about creating such a law? I think most people would say it is in fact permissible to support the enshrining of Freedom of Religion in law, even though practically, it legally allows people to do all sorts of things (such as worship idols) that would seem to be explicitly against the Torah. So how could we support this?

The answer is, in an open democratic society, the best way to preserve my Freedom of Religion, is to preserve EVERYONE’s Freedom of Religion. Even if it means, in the process of doing so, I am essentially defending the legal rights of people who will choose to use those rights in a way that I my find problematic. But that’s the way law works. It is meant to be consistent and impartial. So in the process of preserving my rights, I am also preserving the rights of others.

In fact, I would further posit that most would consider it permissible for Orthodox Jews to actively and publicly campaign for the instituting of Freedom of Religion in their place of residence, using the same rationale.

In my mind, the maximal expanding of rights for all, as a means of preserving one’s own rights, applies to marriage, as well. Let me give an example that is germane to Orthodox Jews. According to Jewish law, it is acceptable to marry one’s first cousin. Not that I specifically recommend this, but it is in fact one’s right according to our tradition, and it was not an uncommon reality in times past. Now, what would happen if our government were to decide one day that this should be defined as incest? (By the way, according to the Marriage Act in its current form in Australia, you are able to marry relatives. See here) Would we not protest that this was curtailing our rights to decide who we want to marry, as observant Jews? Would it not be better for the secular government to get out of the business of deciding who can and cannot marry (save for the protection of minors, etc)?

In this way, we can argue that the best way to protect our rights to marry whom we choose is to protect everyone’s rights to marry whom they choose…

It is for these reasons that I believe it is permissible for Orthodox Jews, regardless of their feelings about the permissibility of homosexuality, to vote YES in the upcoming survey regarding Marriage Equality.

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