HRC Blog

Important and Historic Vote for Same Sex Marriage by Conservative Judaism

The following post comes from HRC's Director of Volunteer Leadership & Strategic Development Frank November:

The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards voted almost unanimously in favor of allowing its rabbis to perform same-sex marriage yesterday (It has been reported that there was one abstention and 13 “yes” votes).  As JTS is one of the flagship institutions of the Conservative movement of Judaism in the United States, this was important and historic vote for a number of reasons, including:

  • The overwhelming majority of Jews in America are part of either the Reform or Conservative movements. With this vote, the Conservative movement joins the Reform and Reconstructionist movements by providing the opportunity for its loving and committed lesbian & gay couples to be able to have a marriage ceremony performed by a Rabbi within these Movements. (Civil marriage is still governed by State laws and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the Federal Government from providing over 1,100 benefits to legally-married same-sex couples, no matter where they live in the US.)
  • The Conservative Movement believes that Jewish laws and standards continue evolve to reflect current human understanding and reality.  As support for marriage equality has grown in the United States reflecting the public’s growing understanding of LGBT people and the love, honor and commitment that same-sex couples have for one another is the same as all other couples.  (President Obama confirmed his support for marriage equality during May 2012 for same-sex couples as a result of his own evolution of thinking due current understanding and reality by getting to know lesbian & gay families.)

This vote joins other recent examples of the Conservative movement’s evolving beliefs that have been built on top of one another:

  • 1973: Vote to permit the counting of women as part of the quorum of adults required for communal prayer (Minyan or מִנְיָן).
  • 1983: Vote to allow for the ordination of women as Conservative rabbis. (Amy Eilberg was the first woman to be ordained. She later co-founded the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center at the height of the AIDS crisis to offer spiritual care to those living with illness and loss.)
  • 2002:  Vote in favor or an evolved understanding of women in Judaism.
  • 2006: Vote to allow the ordination of lesbian & gay rabbis and to permit the celebration of same-sex commitment ceremonies performed by the Movement’s rabbis in the US.
  • 2012: Vote by the Conservative moment’s arm in Israel to allow for the ordination of lesbian & gay rabbis

Because the Conservative Jewish Movement does not believe in relativism or fundamentalism, rabbis ordained by JTS are not “required” to agree with this vote, but they are permitted to do so.

While many of the details regarding yesterday’s vote still need to be fleshed out and there is certainly more “evolving” needed by the Conservative movement about LGBT people and women to reflect humanity’s current understanding and reality in its interpretation of Jewish laws and standards, yesterday’s vote was indeed an important marker in the history of Conservative Judaism in the United States.

As someone who was raised and grew up as an observant Conservative Jew and was a very involved within the Movement’s United Synagogue Youth program that grounded me in many important values that I still embrace and gave me the space to grow as a leader, I am very pleased with this progress. 

When I came out during my early 20’s, I could not reconcile the beliefs at that time of Conservative Judaism with my own understanding of and reality of being a gay man. Because of the perceived outright rejection I experienced as an individual and the lack of dignity that the Movement and its leadership offered me and my family at that time, I felt disenfranchised and left the Movement. But yesterday’s vote gives me reason to have a second look, as Conservative Judaism became a more welcoming place to belong.

Shabbat Shalom. שבת שלום

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