Levin on Judaism and the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

While procrastinating about grading, I scrolled through today’s twitter feed (yes,  you too can follow my not-particularly exciting twitter feed) and found a extremely thoughtful op-ed by Hillel Y. Levin (U. Georgia Law School) in Tablet Magazine titled “Stay Out of It.”   In the piece, Levin criticizes recent statements from prominent Orthodox Jewish institutions opposing same-sex marriage.  Much of Levin’s criticism tracks some of the larger debates over whether there is a role for religious argumentation in the public sphere – debates frequently associated with John Rawls’s seminal article “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.”

But Levin also presses on another reason why Orthodox Jews should be particularly sympathetic to same-sex marriage, which emphasizes the minority status of both the Jewish and LGBT communities.  Here’s an excerpt I found particularly noteworthy:

Unlike our Christian friends and neighbors, Jews grow up with our minority status deeply ingrained and without the instinctive expectation that our religious traditions and beliefs will naturally be reflected in the broader law and culture. As a minority within a minority, Orthodox Jews recognize that we reap the benefits of pluralism, tolerance, and accommodation. After all, if religious beliefs in this country were to orient secular law, we would find ourselves deeply disappointed and possibly threatened, just as we historically have in every other diaspora country.

Simson on Same-Sex Marriage and the Establishment Clause

Gary J. Simson (Mercer University School of Law) has posted Religion by Any Other Name? Prohibitions on Same-Sex Marriage and the Limits of the Establishment Clause. The abstract follows.

 This article considers whether laws prohibiting same-sex marriage should be found to violate the Establishment Clause. After explaining the nonendorsement principle that the Supreme Court has recognized as central to the clause, the article discusses the limited case law and commentary that explicitly address the constitutionality of same-sex marriage prohibitions under the Establishment Clause. It then examines the various reasons that opponents of same-sex marriage have offered in support of a ban and concludes that those reasons provide strikingly little justification for laws banning same-sex marriage.

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The Political Relevance of Religious Leaders

The New York Times is reporting that President Obama made fairly significant efforts to placate various religious leaders almost immediately after he announced last week that he now supports same-sex marriage (see this post by my colleague, Mark, in which the President explained that his position on same-sex marriage was informed by his Christian faith).  One of the people whom the President contacted expressed concerns that this policy shift might have implications for religious liberty.  The President is reported to have responded: “Absolutely not.  That’s not where we’re going, and that’s not what I want.”

What is most interesting is not the wide range of reactions that the President received from religious leaders, all of whom are otherwise aligned with the President politically, but that the President believed it to be crucial as a political matter to reach out to so many religious figures only hours after he made the announcement.  That alacrity speaks to the continuing political importance of these religious communities, whether for the right or the left.

The President, Faith, and Same-Sex Marriage

An interesting point that may be overlooked in President Obama’s announcement yesterday that he supports same-sex marriage. According to the President, his faith as a Christian helped lead him to this position. Referring to his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, he said:

This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.

But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.

Of course, as the President suggested, not everyone agrees with his assessment of what Christianity requires in this respect — the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example. Still, in stating that his religious faith helped determine his position, the President is well within the American tradition of political leaders who explain their policies in religious terms.

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