Shuls at odds over same-sex marriage

Shuls at odds over same-sex marriage

Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Photo: Peter Haskin
Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Photo: Peter Haskin

WITH debate on same-sex marriage heating up in Canberra, Jewish congregational organisations have restated their starkly divergent stances, with calls urging the federal government to keep things as they are, countered by pleas to change the marriage laws.

Marriage equality hit the headlines last week when ALP leader Bill Shorten introduced a bill to legalise marriage between same-sex couples. It was cautiously received by the Coalition, with Liberal backbencher, Queensland MP Warren Entsch – a longtime supporter of marriage equality – urging a bipartisan approach after the Budget sittings. Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg added his weight to the case for change with his statement of support on Monday night’s Q&A program.

However, the issue continues to divide the Australian Jewish community. Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) president Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick and Rabbinical Council of NSW (RCNSW) president Rabbi Yehoram Ulman jointly stated to The AJN that Orthodox Jews would continue following the biblical definition of marriage, and urged the government to keep the status quo.

“Judaism, based on Divine biblical mandate, has always defined marriage as the formalisation and consecration of a union between a man and a woman. This definition has been the historical, universal, sole means of formally and legally maintaining the traditional and natural family unit and we respectfully urge government legislators to maintain that status quo.”

The rabbis stated that the RCV and RCNSW “will continue to ­perform marriages guided solely by this traditional biblical and historical definition”.

Their views clashed with the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ), whose president Stephen Freeman told The AJN it “welcomes recent moves to have marriage equality recognised through the legislative system of Australia”. Freeman restated the UPJ’s submission to the Senate inquiry on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill of 2010. “As stated in Genesis (1:27), ‘and God created humans in God’s own image (B’Tselem Elohim)’. Accordingly people should be treated equally, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

“Now, as then, we state our total support for the LGBT community and are proud that our congregations and rabbis gladly welcome them as equal members of our community. We call on the Parliament of Australia to recognise their call for justice and equality with regard to marriage and all other aspects of living in a civil society.”

Rabbi Adi Cohen of Temple David in Perth, who chairs the Progressive Moetzah (Rabbinical Council), which convened in Sydney this week, said the council discussed permitting its rabbis to perform same-sex marriages if the law changes, which, in Rabbi Cohen’s words, is “plain, simple human rights”. Currently Progressive rabbis in Australia and New Zealand can perform same-sex civil unions.


Bill Shorten.

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