Received from the Legislative Assembly on 12 September 2019:
An inquiry into current anti-vilification laws, their possible expansion, and/or extension of protections beyond existing classes to the Legal and Social Issues Committee for consideration and report no later than 1 September 2020.
The Committee should consider:
1) The effectiveness of the operation of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (the Act) in delivering upon its purposes; 2) The success or otherwise of enforcement of the Act, and the appropriateness of sanctions in delivering upon the Act’s purposes; 3) Interaction between the Act and other state and Commonwealth legislation; 4) Comparisons in the operation of the Victorian Act with legislation in other jurisdictions; 5) The role of state legislation in addressing online vilification. 6) The effectiveness of current approaches to law enforcement in addressing online offending. 7) Any evidence of increasing vilification and hate conduct in Victoria; 8) Possible extension of protections or expansion of protection to classes of people not currently protected under the existing Act; 9) Any work underway to engage with social media and technology companies to protect Victorians from vilification.
The 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade celebrates the 36th anniversary of the continuing struggle for human rights and equality waged by, and for, LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) citizens in Australia, including those in the Jewish and broader community.
It should also provide a strong reminder to us all that there are still many places in the world where people are not only denied these basic rights but are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation.
The Jewish people’s adoption of the mantra “Never again” following the Shoah was to remind society of the devastating destruction caused by the evil forces of the Nazi regime against not only the Jewish people but against many other sections of society, including homosexual men who were forced to wear a pink triangle.
Beyond that, “Never again” was a determined call to ensure that such acts of hatred would not be repeated or condoned by the civilized world, and that Jews would take all possible action to prevent its recurrence.
In recent years there have been unfathomable yet ghastly attacks on the freedoms of LGTBI citizens in countries such as Uganda, Russia and India, including the recent adoption of harsh homophobic laws.
The consequences of this persecution are justifiably likened to the situation that arose during the Nazi era in Europe, and it, therefore, behooves Jewish people around the world to call on their communal and national leaders to speak out and take action against these nations.
As we celebrate the many achievements of the gay and lesbian movement in Australia in making our society more fair and open, the Union for Progressive Judaism calls on our community to use the freedom that we enjoy to condemn all who perpetuate discrimination and persecution based on ignorance.
Incorporated in Victoria Reg. No. A0042291F, ABN No. 96 213 500 277
Email: email@example.com Website: www.upj.org.au
28 Chatswood Avenue, Chatswood, NSW 2067
Tel: (612) 9413 1282
Affiliated to World Union for Progressive Judaism
Within Progressive Judaism, we start with a strong emphasis on the human position. We also believe that every human being is ‘made in God’s image’, and that God is a God of love, kindness and justice. Whilst the majority of people are predominantly heterosexual, it is clear that a significant number are not, and we do not accept that God wishes them to be forced into relationships and structures that are not as loving, healthy and supportive as they could be.
Since we believe that Torah is a revered but ultimately human document, written by our ancestors, inspired by God and seeking to answer the question ‘What does God want of us?’, we recognise the duplicated prohibition in Leviticus that ‘a man should not lie with another man as with a woman’ as one of those simplistic and time-bound human rules, developed in the context of needing to produce as many children as possible to create a numerous nation (and army) – and one that has, sadly and tragically, led to enormous prejudice, bigotry, hatred and violence against a particular group within all monotheistic religions over the subsequent millennia.
Back in Genesis 2, the observation is made, in the name of God, that a person should not be alone. However much you love your animals, they are not the same as another person. The context of the creation story on Genesis 1 is on reproduction – the trees and vegetation with their seed in them, the very first command – even before humans have been created – to the creatures and birds and insects: ‘Go forth and multiply’. When God created humanity – male and female at the same moment – they too received the same instruction – the first command to humanity, but with the added responsibility to ‘khivshuha’ – to ‘master’ or ‘care-take’ the earth. After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden (the naive innocence of childhood where everything is provided), they get down to propagation (chapter 4) – the explanation for the population of the world. Male and Female equals children!
So this relationship which produces children was seen as ‘God’s natural plan’ (though sometimes with more than one wife!) and was formalised in ‘marriage’ which was then seen as a ‘God given’ or ‘holy’ structure (the agreement to form such as unit is termed ‘kiddushin’, sanctification). Hence, as with homophobia, marriage as a divinely sanctioned heterosexual union has also drawn heavily on the Hebrew bible as it has become the norm in monotheism.
Today we acknowledge that we cannot be sure of God’s will, and that Torah scholarship does not spell it out definitively and fully. We view and review our generations of experience and scholarship with our wish for truth, right, justice and compassion and our understanding of psychology, history, coercion and oppression in the name of religion and God. We seek to do God’s will, as our ancestors did, but with the awareness that we may not be right, and can only do our best.
In March, 2000, the Central Conference of American Rabbis agreed that “the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual”. In Britain, too, homosexual Jewish couples were able to celebrate a Commitment Ceremony. In 2009, the Rabbis of the Union for Progressive Judaism (Australia, New Zealand and Asia) resolved to permit its rabbis to officiate at same gender commitment ceremonies between two Jews. At that stage we were not ready to use the specific term Kiddushin but could use the term ‘bestowing Kedusha’. A document may be used and referred to as a Ketubah. A Khuppah may be used as it may be understood to represent the Jewish home being established.
We have agreed not to call the ceremony Marriage for the time being even where we may be legally entitled to do so, but we have written to the government to call for full Marriage Equality – so that marriage may now be recognized as a binding legal and social commitment between two adults. Marriage serves as a recognised and long-term legal and social structure in the modern world. Those who live in a permanent relationship without the benefit of the formal recognition may still suffer from some social stigma and may be disadvantaged, for example in pension rights, and any such inequity is unjust and unacceptable. For these reasons, the Rabbis and leaders of the UPJ now wish to see marriage redefined as the permanent and exclusive relationship between two people, whether a man and a woman, two women or two men, and support Marriage Equality. We were the only religious group to provide supportive testimony to the two Parliamentary enquiries into it, but hope that others will soon join us! We also support Keshet (keshet.org.au), who are committed to challenging the ongoing prejudice and discrimination within the Jewish community against homosexuality.
Jonathan Keren-Black is Rabbi at The Leo Baeck Centre.
The Union for Progressive Judaism applauds
American move to advance Marriage Equality
The Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) welcomes the landmark decision by the American Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor declaring Section 3 of the 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) unconstitutional. In its 5-4 decision, the Court found that same-sex couples who are legally married are entitled to equal treatment under US federal law.
The Progressive Movement has always believed in equality and that extends to the gay and lesbian communities and we welcome them into our congregations. Commending the decision, UPJ President Stephen Freeman and Executive Director, Steve Denenberg said “Today’s decisions by the US Supreme Court represent an historic and positive step towards justice and equality for same sex couples. The decision in this case states that failure to recognize same-sex couples was a violation of equal protection for legally married same-sex couples. The UPJ believes that this decision supports the call for marriage equality to be accepted in Australia in order that same-sex couples receive the respect, rights, and recognition that they deserve. We believe that these decisions are a victory not just for the LGBT community but for all who value equality and fairness in our society.”
THE well-publicised difference of opinion between Progressive and Orthodox Jewish representative bodies on the issue of same-sex marriage has led to an argument over whether Progressive congregations are part of mainstream Jewry.
A Rabbinical Council of NSW submission to the recent parliamentary inquiry into marriage equality stated the council represents “all mainstream synagogues in NSW”, a claim that has raised the ire of the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ).
In a note submitted to the Senate after submissions had closed, UPJ executive director Steve Denenberg said the Rabbinical Council’s claim to represent “all Orthodox and mainstream synagogues in NSW” was “far from the case”.
“They do not represent the many thousands of people in the state who are affiliated to the Progressive, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal denominations of Judaism,” he said.
“These synagogues are definitely part of the ‘mainstream’ of our community, even if their views may differ from the Rabbinical Council.
“While there are a range of views on this topic in the community, there is no question that the views of the people who are members of the synagogues that are not Orthodox are undoubtedly better reflected in the comments included in the submission made by our organisation.”
In response, Rabbinical Council president Yoram Ulman said: “By its very definition, Reform/progressive theology deviates from the mainstream. It is quite surprising that they are even suggesting otherwise.”
Denenberg was the only Jewish representative when a federal parliamentary committee held a consultation on the same-sex marriage issue at NSW Parliament House on April 12.
“I was able to say that based on our beliefs that each person is created in the image of God, … each person is equal,” he said.
“Therefore, their rights for full participation in society should be equal, including the right to marry. Equality would dictate that same gender couples should be able to marry.”
The Rabbinical Council has lined up alongside the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia in opposing any changes to the Marriage Act.
The Senate inquiry will present its findings in June.