Why I support gay marriage

By Daniel Finkelstein, June 14, 2012

We Jews like to pray. We spend hours at it. And we've been doing it for thousands of years. Granted, it's in Hebrew so most of us are a bit hazy on the detail. And we aren't big on decorum, or even sometimes on appropriate behaviour. I remember my surprise as a child, on attending a more Orthodox synagogue than my own, to finds everyone walking up and down all the time, like the half-time rush at Stamford Bridge. The guy in front of me was trying to sell his next door neighbour a consignment of shirts.

For myself, I've never been much good at praying. I fidget a good deal, drift off, forget to stand in the right places. A recurring memory of sitting with my dad involves me twirling his tzitzit round my fingers instead of paying attention. I grew up, got my own talit, and pretty much kept twirling.

But the basic thrust of all the praying, we get. And broadly we mean it. It is woven into the fabric of our lives. Even the less observant do it on big occasions. At my least attentive, and most sceptical, I still see the point.

It helps me think and understand. And of one thing I am stone cold certain - there would be no point praying for thousands of years if it didn't teach us anything.

This is a long way of explaining why I am a Liberal Jew. I think we live and learn. Our traditions and teachings help us interpret the modern world and scientific development and the advances of the enlightenment help us to interpret our tradition and teachings.

And so it is with gay marriage.

The more we understand about homosexuality, and about nature, the stronger becomes the civil-rights case for equal treatment of gay people. And the more we understand our own history of oppression, the more obvious it appears that homosexuals have their own terrible history of oppression.

The idea that gay people are pushy, never satisfied, always wanting more rights looks a particularly warped accusation when seen by Jews. Doesn't it?

My Liberal Judaism doesn't just lead me to reject prejudice against gays. It also leads me to understand the value of the other bit of gay marriage, to comprehend the value of marriage. We have thousands of years of

experience to add to the sociological evidence that marriage works; that it encourages a stable society. Judaism is built on the commitment symbolised by marriage.

I just want that to be made available to everyone, whatever their nature.

I would like, beyond the Government's plans for civil marriage, that it be allowed, as my own rabbi, Aaron Goldstein, argues, as part of a religious ceremony. It should not be compulsory for religious institutions to conduct such ceremonies. But it should be possible. I accept that, for some Jews, those who do not share my theology, this is too much. They regard homosexuality as immoral. And I am not going to change that by arguing.

But I would nevertheless urge those, like Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, who want the Chief Rabbi to throw himself into the fight against gay marriage, to think again.

For centuries, it was state policy that to deny the divinity of Christ was immoral. And all over the globe Jews have suffered because others do not think we should be able to practise our religion as we choose.

Britain today is different. We can have our own rituals, and marriages, deny Christ, marry in synagogues and we are left alone to do it. The freedom we have to be Jews depends upon others refraining from imposing their world-view upon us. We should, at the very least, show the same restraint ourselves.

Daniel Finkelstein is executive editor of The Times

Last updated: 10:20am, June 14 2012