Last week the government launched a consultation on how the law might be changed to permit the introduction of civil marriage for same-sex relationships. From a variety of Christian clerics there has issued forth a variety of opinions for and against the proposition. My concern here is not with the Christian reaction, but with the Jewish.
However, to understand what is really being proposed, and to place this reaction in its proper context, we need to grasp the reality of the underlying issue, which is not actually about "equality" at all. Same-sex couples (or rather, some same-sex couples - I'll return to this in a moment) can already enter into civil partnerships. These legal arrangements confer upon them, in broad terms, the same rights and responsibilities as marriage confers upon heterosexual couples; if there are some residual anomalies, these can doubtless be addressed without any interference with the current legal status of marriage.
But this isn't what the gay and lesbian lobby wants. In regard to the current consultation the LGBT lobby's obsessive preoccupation is with the legal enforcement of a change to the definition of marriage, so as to confer upon homosexual relationships the same social status as that enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. The lobby has been singularly unsuccessful in bringing about this change through public pressure. So now it's demanding that the full force of the law be invoked to compel a change in attitude. To allay the fears of the religious it's being said that the reform would only apply to "civil" marriages. But human rights legislation will inevitably be used to foist the change upon places of worship.
Marriage - according to my dictionary - is "the legal union or contract made by a man and a woman to live as husband and wife". The ingredients are a man and a woman, not a man and a man. Orthodox Judaism has no problem with defending this, but adherents of the Liberal and Reform movements evidently do, as without the foundation of the Torah they have little to underpin their beliefs. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner proclaims that Reform welcomes the proposed legislation because "a recognition of equality of marriage for homosexuals as well as heterosexuals can only strengthen…the institution of marriage," while Liberal rabbi Aaron Goldstein declares his support for "full marriage equality."
But do they really want "full marriage equality"? Over the past few weeks I have been confronting my trendy non-Orthodox friends with the inescapable consequences of their support for "full marriage equality". After all, if the sanctity of marriage - and of the chupah - is to be extended to consenting adults in a homosexual relationship, what about consenting adults in an incestuous relationship? If we truly believe in "full marriage equality", why should not a father marry his daughter (assuming always the relationship is consensual) - or, for that matter, his son? Why should a mother not be able to marry her son - under the chupah? Why should not two lesbian-inclined sisters be able to marry each other, or two gay brothers? Or - not to be sexist - a brother and a sister?
Anomalies can be addressed without this change
The remarkable thing is that I've not encountered one Jew - of any religious inclination - who is prepared to countenance the extension of the right to marry to such relationships as I've just described. And when I've pushed the issue - when I've pointed to the inevitable and inescapable end-point of the argument that lies behind the current campaign to extend the concept of marriage to [some] consenting homosexuals - I've been met with either outright hostility or a shocking retreat into eugenics: that society must guard against the possibility of the birth (through incestuous unions) of children with severe learning difficulties or physical disabilities. This argument is, of course, straight out of the Nazi textbook.
The Judaism that I practice doesn't condemn homosexuality. If a homosexual couple want to enter into a legal relationship, let them. But please don't call it marriage, because it isn't. May I add, as an Orthodox Jew, that I regard the unwillingness of Lord Sacks to make any public statement on this issue as nothing short of disgraceful?