Match made on Earth: a reply to Rabbi Gutnick by Troy Simpson

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Gutnick Reads From Different Rule Book

In “A Match Made In Heaven” (AJN 26/10), Rabbi Moshe Gutnick does not understand that Australia is secular. Whatever Gutnick’s objections to same-sex marriage, and however genuinely he holds them, those objections are based on the Rabbi’s particular form of Judaism. But the laws of Judaism and the laws of marriage are separate. Marriage, in its incredibly diverse forms, predates Judaism; marriage predates “God”. For much of its history, marriage has had little to do with religion, and more to do with control, power, and property. Some of the ways that the Rabbi impermissibly superimposes his brand of Judaism on to Australia’s secular system of law and government are outlined below.

First, Gutnick says “Judaism unequivocally recognises marriage as being only between a man and a woman.” But Australian law, namely the Marriage Act, only “unequivocally” recognised marriage as being between a man and a woman in 2004, when the Howard government explicitly inserted that definition into the Act. Federal Parliament can easily change the legislative definition of marriage again to allow same-sex marriage (subject to the Constitution as interpreted by the High Court). The federal definition of marriage might be unequivocal now, but that definition may not be unequivocal for much longer.

The term “marriage” in the Constitution is itself equivocal. The meaning of marriage will likely be tested in the High Court, either when a State passes its own marriage equality legislation or when a new Commonwealth Parliament passes a federal law on same-sex marriage. Many constitutional experts believe that the term “marriage” in section 51 is not unequivocally fixed to its meaning in 1901 but rather is flexible enough to support same-sex marriage. Even if the Commonwealth cannot legislate on same-sex marriage, then the States can. (The States might even refer their powers to the Commonwealth if needed, or the people can confer the requisite power at a referendum). So while “marriage” might be unequivocal in Gutnick’s rule book, under Australian law, “marriage” is equivocal and changeable.

Second, Gutnick says the Torah “irrevocably forbids homosexual relationships and overt homosexual behaviour.” Again, although Gutnick’s view of the Torah might irrevocably forbid homosexual relationships and homosexual behaviour, modern Australian law does not. The laws decriminalising homosexual conduct in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s further prove that what might be unequivocal or irrevocable for the Rabbi is equivocal and revocable under Australian civil law.

Third, Gutnick mentions “Parliament begins its deliberations with a prayer to the God of all mankind”. In fact, Parliament inserted the prayers with a particular kind of God in mind: a distinctly Protestant Christian God. According to constitutional law expert Anne Twomey, “Parliament did not introduce prayers because of ‘our Judeo-Christian heritage’. It introduced prayers in response to lobbying from churches.”  The first Standing Orders adopted by the Senate did not even provide for the offering of a prayer. Some delegates who helped frame our Constitution called the practice a “farce” and a “matter of indifference”. The Standing Orders to which the Rabbi refers can be easily changed.

Fourth, Gutnick says “all who stand in our court” swear “their oath on a Bible”. Here, the Rabbi is plain wrong. Australia’s Evidence Acts now give people a choice to take whatever oath their religion allows or dictates (on a Bible, the Koran, etc) or they can “affirm” without any religious text at all. This procedure proves further that Australia is secular.

Fifth, Gutnick says the Marriage Act recognises the religious nature of marriage. Again, the Rabbi is factually wrong. On the contrary, the Marriage Act recognises the secular nature of marriage. You can choose to have your marriage solemnised by a religious minister or not to have your marriage solemnised by a religious minister. So, under Australian marriage law, the State is separate from religion and not exclusively allied to any particular religion. This is the very meaning of “secular”.

Sixth, Gutnick concludes: “Our democratic principles are not those that espouse freedom from religion but freedom of religion”. Enough has been written above to show Gutnick’s conclusion is inaccurate. Australia’s democratic principles, as reflected by the laws and procedures listed above (and by section 116 of the Constitution), in fact rest on the freedom of all Australians to adhere to any religion of their choosing — or to none. Australian law will not be allowed to unduly interfere with Gutnick’s particular religious beliefs; but neither will the Rabbi’s particular religious beliefs, or anyone else’s, be allowed to unduly interfere with Australian law.

Troy Simpson can be contacted on Facebook here.

AJN Letters: Marriage Equality – Responses to Rabbi Chaim Ingram – October 26 2012

26 October 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.

No rational basis for opposing gay marriage

IN his response to Justice Stephen Rothman’s article, “Marriage Rites Are Rights For All” (AJN 12/10), Rabbi Chaim Ingram (AJN 19/10) rejects as “patently risible” Rothman’s view that “current opposition to same-sex marriage is irrational”.  Rabbi Ingram then continues: “Opposition to homosexual marriage is eminently rational.”  However, other than baldly stating that such opposition is “eminently rational”, Ingram provides little evidence of precisely how that opposition is rational.

The closest Ingram comes is citing the opinion of 150 doctors that marriage is between a man and a woman exclusively is the basis for a healthy society.  However, the Australia Medical Association (AMA) has rejected the stance of those 150 doctors.  In fact, the AMA president has reportedly said the doctors’ claims are irresponsible and at odds with medical evidence.  The AMA president cited a growing body of evidence that children of gay and lesbian parents are just as happy with themselves and their own sexuality as children of heterosexual parents with no difference in development, psychological adjustment, or peer popularity.

Moreover, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) – the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, which represents more than 20,000 members – has endorsed the American Psychological Association’s calling for marriage equality.  In a unanimous resolution, the APS has called for legalisation of same-sex marriage, on the basis of psychological evidence showing the mental health benefits of marriage, and the harm caused by social exclusion and discrimination arising from not having the choice to marry.

I ask Rabbi Ingram to have another attempt at explaining the rational basis for opposing same-sex marriage.  In particular, I ask the rabbi: What is the rational difference between a committed, exclusive relationship of one man and one woman and a committed, exclusive relationship of one man and one man or one woman and one woman?  The rational difference cannot be children, since one does not need to have to children to get married in Australia; and one does not need to get married to have children.  What, then, is the patently rational difference?

Fraser, ACT

The reality of homosexuality

DOES Rabbi Ingram have any compassion for those whose natural sexual desires are toward their own, rather than the opposite, sex?  Homosexuality has been observed in animal species as well as in humans, so perhaps some people are born that way.  What has the Orthodox rabbinate to say on that?

The Torah also has a command that “wayward” sons be brought to the community to be stoned.  Naturally the application of this law is abhorrent and the rabbis have found ways around the law.

But when it comes to homosexuality, an ancient prejudice that has lead to suicides, only the Progressive rabbis have made a positive step to justice.

Tell me rabbi: How would gay marriage in any way affect those of us in heterosexual marriages?  How could it change our relationships with our spouses and children?  Why, rabbi, do you take such a strong stand on this subject?

Bentleigh East, Vic

Most medics are pro gay marriage

Rabbi Ingram refers to 150 doctors who oppose changes to the Marriage Act that would allow same-sex attracted and intersex people the right to marry the person of their choice.  What he conveniently neglects to mention are the over 1000 Australian medical practitioners who have signed their names to support such legislative changes, on the basis of credible medical evidence.  The list of names and research papers are all available at  With stark headlines such as the recent “Suicide rates high for Orthodox homosexual youths” in The Jerusalem Post, and in the face of the evidence presented by Doctors for Marriage Equality, it doesn’t take much to realise that people like Rabbi Ingram are exacerbating the problems their communities are facing.

Contemporary scientific and medical understanding is so completely foreign to what was acceptable decades ago, let alone 4000 years ago.  Rabbi Ingram must learn to move with the times or be rendered a prehistoric relic who does more harm than good.

Michael Barnett
Ashwood, Vic

Disgusted at rabbi’s homophobic views

I AM ashamed that Chaim Ingram’s homophobic and offensive comments were allowed in last week’s letters.  I am extremely disappointed and embarrassed by this representation of our community.

Being a philosophy student and an atheist secular humanist Jew, I am once again shocked by this widely held view in the religious community.  Ingram tries to apply logic to his emotional plea and fails miserably.  We, as people, are meant to spread love, compassion and kindness, and this letter is taking us in the other direction.

Melbourne, Vic

How would rabbis react to gay kids?

I AM writing to express my disgust at the letter from last week’s AJN from Rabbi Chaim Ingram in reply to Justice Stephen Rothman’s article (12/10).

Again it displays the total ignorance and intolerance of many of our rabbis.  It is disgusting in its content.

What would many of the so-called rabbis say if they personally had a gay son or daughter? I fortunately belong to a congregation on Melbourne where are rabbis are understanding and very tolerant of all sexual relationships, and welcome heterosexuals and homosexuals equally, remembering we are all created equal in the sight of God.

A letter like this is a sure way of losing many Jews from the various congregations.

Black Rock, Vic