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The position of North American Reform Jewry with respect to homosexuals, homosexuality, and the acknowledgement of homosexual relationships can be seen in the statements of the two key bodies of North American Reform Jewry, the CCAR and UAHC. These statements also show how the positions have both changed (in some aspects) and stayed the same (in some aspects) over time.
In 1977, the CCAR (the organization of Reform Rabbis) adopted a resolution (http://www.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/resodisp.pl?file=rights&year=1977) calling for legislation decriminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults, and calling for an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians. The resolution called on Reform Jewish organizations to develop programs to implement this stand. The same year, UAHC (the organization of Reform Congregations) issued a resolution that supported homosexuals, but did not encourage the lifestyle:
... resolved that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection under the law. We oppose discrimination against homosexuals in areas of opportunity, including employment and housing. We call upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality.
... resolved that we affirm our belief that private sexual act between consenting adults are not the proper province of government and law enforcement agencies.
... resolved that we urge congregations to conduct appropriate educational programming for youth and adults so as to provide greater understanding of relation of Jewish values to the range of human sexuality.
In response to this, in 1987, UAHC resolved that it would:
Then, in 1989, UAHC resolved to:
In 1990, the CCAR endorsed the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Homosexuality and the Rabbinate. This position paper urged that "all rabbis, regardless of sexual orientation, be accorded the opportunity to fulfill the sacred vocation that they have chosen." The committee endorsed the view that "all Jews are religiously equal regardless of their sexual orientation." The committee expressed its agreement with changes in the admissions policies of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which stated that the "sexual orientation of an applicant [be considered] only within the context of a candidates overall suitability for the rabbinate," and reaffirmed that all rabbinic graduates of the HUC-JIR would be admitted into CCAR membership upon application. The report described differing views within the committee as to the nature of kiddushin, and deferred the matter of rabbinic officiation.
A 1996 resolution resolved that the CCAR "support the right of gay and lesbian couples to share fully and equally in the rights of civil marriage," and voiced opposition to governmental efforts to ban gay and lesbian marriages. The resolution also said:
Judaism places great emphasis on family, children, and the future, which is assured by a family. However we may understand homosexuality, whether as an illness, as a genetically based dysfunction or as a sexual preference and lifestyle - we cannot accommodate the relationship of two homosexuals as a "marriage" within the context of Judaism, for none of the elements of qiddushin (sanctification) normally associated with marriage can be invoked for this relationship.
In addition to these resolutions, two CCAR committees have addressed the question of same-gender officiation. The CCAR Committee on Responsa addressed the question of whether homosexual relationships can qualify as kiddushin (which it defined as "Jewish marriage"). By a committee majority of 7 to 2, the committee concluded that "homosexual relationships, however exclusive and committed they may be, do not fit within this legal category; they cannot be called kiddushin. We do not understand Jewish marriage apart from the concept of kiddushin." The committee acknowledged its lack of consensus on this question.
In 1998, The Ad Hoc Committee on Human Sexuality issued a report that included its conclusion, by a committee majority of 11 with 1 abstention, that "kedushah may be present in committed same gender relationships between two Jews and that these relationships can serve as the foundation of stable Jewish families, thus adding strength to the Jewish community." The report called upon the CCAR to support all colleagues in their choices in this matter, and to develop educational programs. Note this change of position, from "cannot be" to "may be present". However, the report implied it is not present in all.
More recently (March 2000), CCAR issued a new resolution addressing officiation of same-sex committment ceremonies. This resolution says:
WHEREAS justice and human dignity are cherished Jewish values, and
WHEREAS, in March of 1999 the Womens Rabbinic Network passed a resolution urging the Central Conference of American Rabbis to bring the issue of honoring ceremonies between two Jews of the same gender to the floor of the convention plenum, and
WHEREAS, the institutions of Reform Judaism have a long history of support for civil and equal rights for gays and lesbians, and
WHEREAS, North American organizations of the Reform Movement have passed resolutions in support of civil marriage for gays and lesbians, therefore
WE DO HEREBY RESOLVE, that the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual, and
FURTHER RESOLVED, that we recognize the diversity of opinions within our ranks on this issue. We support the decision of those who choose to officiate at rituals of union for same-gender couples, and we support the decision of those who do not, and
FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon the CCAR to support all colleagues in their choices in this matter, and
FURTHER RESOLVED, that we also call upon the CCAR to develop both educational and liturgical resources in this area.
Rabbi Eric Yoffee of UAHC, on March 29, 2000, released the following statement in response to the March 2000 resolution:
This afternoon the Central Conference of American Rabbis, meeting in Greensboro, NC, adopted a resolution by an overwhelming vote stating, in part, that "the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual."
It is important to note what the resolution on same gender unions does and does not say. It does not compel any rabbi to officiate at such a ritual, and indeed supports the right of a rabbi not to officiate. It does not specify what ritual is appropriate for such a ceremony. It does not say that the ceremony performed should be called a "marriage."
Nonetheless, the historical and religious significance of this resolution is indisputable. For the first time in history, a major rabbinical body has affirmed the Jewish validity of committed, same gender relationships.
What do the members of UAHC congregations think about this resolution? It is impossible to know for certain. Some have told me of their strong support, while others have indicated their opposition. Still others have said that they are sympathetic to the ideas expressed but felt no resolution was necessary at this time.
Over the last quarter century, the UAHC Biennial Assembly has spoken out strongly in support of human and civil rights for gays and lesbians. We have admitted to membership a number of congregations that offer special outreach to gay and lesbian Jews, and called upon Reform synagogues to welcome gay and lesbian Jews as singles, couples, and families, and not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in matters related to employment and volunteer leadership. And the UAHC has initiated vigorous education programs to heighten awareness of discrimination and to achieve fuller acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews in our midst.
The Union, however, has always refrained from addressing the issue of rabbinic participation in same gender weddings or commitment ceremonies. As a congregational body, it is our task to provide guidance on issues of congregational policy that are normally decided by synagogue boards. But performance or non-performance of a same gender commitment ceremony is a rabbinical matter, to be determined by each rabbi according to his or her conscience and understanding of Jewish tradition. Therefore, while our synagogue members have felt free to present their views to their own rabbis, and many have done so vigorously, the Union as an organization has appropriately remained silent on the CCAR resolution, and took no part in the many months of debate prior to the convention.
But I too am a rabbi, of course, and I was present at Greensboro. And I would like you to know that, voting as an individual, I cast my ballot in favor the resolution. I did so because of my belief that our gay and lesbian children, relatives, and friends are in great need of spiritual support; that the Torahs prohibition of homosexuality can reasonably be understood as a general condemnation of ancient cultic practice; that loving, permanent homosexual relationships, once difficult to conceive, are now recognized as an indisputable reality; and that in these relationships, whether or not we see them as "marriages" it is surely true that G-d and holiness can be present.
I know that many disagree. But whatever one thinks on the commitment ceremony question, I assume that we will respect those who believe otherwise, and remember what unites us in this debate: our responsibility to welcome gays and lesbians into our synagogues. Because this I know: if there is anything at all that Reform Jews do, it is to create an inclusive spiritual home for all those who seek the solace of our sanctuaries. And if this Movement does not extend support to all who have been victims of discrimination, including gays and lesbians, then we have no right to call ourselves Reform Jews.
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