Obergfell v. Hodges

The symposium in First Things is worth reading. Once again I was taken by the comments of רבי מורי Rabbi Shalom Carmy which offer a different and more refreshing angle than anything else I’ve read on the topic. I’ll copy and paste his response below so that you don’t have to read through the article in First Things. My take- as long as religious exemptions are legal and become widely practiced, I’m fine with SCOTUS decision. Not because I’m a staunch supporter of gay marriage (NTTAWT) but because I have a feeling that in the big picture it’s better for Judaism and for religious freedom in general if US law doesn’t impose or authorize religious beliefs, which is what I think the traditional definition of marriage is.  I prefer not to mess up this post with my own musings. Just listen to Rabbi Carmy:

Shalom Carmy:

Misfortune engenders the obligation of repentance, teaches Judaism. Only yesterday, when the notion of overturning the traditional conception of marriage seemed like a far-fetched fantasy, too many of us put too many of our eggs in the psychological illness basket, condoning on pseudo-ideological grounds therapies that, in our hearts, we knew were a waste of money, the cause of false hope and misplaced guilt. Worse, many of us tolerated without protest bigoted and vulgar voices alien to our sense of decency and outside the bounds of God-fearing discourse. Shall we take umbrage now when those whom we allowed to be humiliated turn their resentment and intolerance on us and on the religion we represent? For this we must repent, before God and before our fellow men.

When a culture treats the family primarily as an arena for self-fulfillment and self-expression rather than first and foremost as the sphere dedicated to the education of future generations, that culture manifests a weakening of its faith in the abiding value and imperative power of its core beliefs. That this spirit of “negation and despair” has corroded liberal Western culture, to its detriment, is an old story. Justice Alito’s dissent notes the rate of illegitimate birth, and nobody is shocked at the routine acceptance of marital infidelity and instability. All this is ominous for the sustainability of Western civilization. To outsiders, however, it appears inconsistent and selective to judge practicing homosexuals, for whom same-sex impulses are usually deep-seated, more strictly than wanton adulterers. If the bonds of faithfulness have frayed, a 5-4 vote in the other direction would not have reversed the ravages of the sexual revolution, the fruit of chronic secular despair under the progressive commodification of late capitalism.

Of course the court’s decision, preempting further debate on the future of marriage as a secular institution, is dismaying to advocates of limited interpretation who oppose the proliferation of novel fundamental and fashionable rights, not least because the newly discovered rights inevitably collide with the rights explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, such as freedom of religion. No doubt upholders of traditional religion will encounter both legal and extralegal pressures from their political masters. My Jewish students are at ease in liberal democracies, unaccustomed to suffering serious penalty or widespread ostracism for their beliefs and way of life. I am not sure how well they will withstand the surging pressure to conform. I am not sure how, and how well, the upholders of traditional religion, and their institutions, will be protected in days to come.

For now, my obligation, and that of other simple believers, is to repent what has been done amiss, and to pursue lives of personal and communal wholesomeness and fortitude, suffused by aspiration, dedication and progressive growth towards personal purity and sanctity. Sanctity begins in the intimacy of self and community. If the witness of such lives helps us to gain tolerance, as I hope, that is good; if it inspires others to join us, even better.

Shalom Carmy teaches Jewish Studies and Philosophy at Yeshiva University and is editor of Tradition, the theological journal sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of America.


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