Gay rights became prominent when President-elect Barack Obama chose Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the benediction at his inauguration on January 20th. I was among those who believed the event was of such historic significance that nothing should have messed with its message of hope. It was a time to demonstrate what the new president has called his "fierce advocacy for equality for gay and lesbian Americans." The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, let us remember, guarantees "equal protection under the law" to all citizens.
When, with Proposition 8, the California Supreme Court overturned its decision to legalize same-sex marriage after 18,000 gay and lesbian weddings had been performed there, it signaled an end in that state to the 14th Amendment. California's Attorney General Jerry Brown called the measure "indefensible" and a New York Times editorial said it violated "American ideals of fairness" and failed to "grant true equality."
It seems clear to those of us who remember the Civil Rights Movement – and who can forget it in the grand moment of an Obama presidency -- that separate is not equal and that civil unions are not a substitute for marriage. Civil unions don't always assure gay couples the same protections as marriage, such protections as the right to make medical decisions on behalf of a partner.
New Jersey is poised to become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation. And why not? Should only men and women who love each other be able to declare publicly and legally their affection and commitment? It's time to open the closet door and let everyone hiding inside get a breath of fresh air because the fact is it's pretty crowded in there.
Every so often, as a writer and as a Jew, I am compelled to comment on Israel's political behavior because, as someone observed of the Holocaust, "all it takes for evil to flourish is the silence of one good man [sic]." While much has been written about the justice or injustice of Israel's invasion of Gaza, and while I am thankful for the fragile ceasefire in place as I write this essay, I must nonetheless ask: When did the people of my heritage – a people so tragically oppressed, so viciously persecuted, so violently annihilated – become capable of the acts perpetrated against ordinary people in the ghetto that is Gaza?
I am not naïve. I have been to Israel and I understand the threat of Hamas or others who would put an end to that country's existence. But when did Jews, of all people, learn to look upon babies clinging to their dead mothers and do nothing? When did they become capable of bombing schools and hospitals, leveling entire communities full of families, cutting off food, water and medical supplies, and defending such acts?
Over 1200 people in Gaza have been killed, more than one-third of them children. Hundreds more are wounded and maimed. Photographs from Al Jazeera reveal atrocities so hideous they defy belief in a carnage called "gruesome and inhumane." Entire families have been decimated, many without food, water, money, or a place to go as a result of indiscriminate civilian bombing. When does this become relevant to the Jewish experience?
January 27th was Yom Ha Shoah – Holocaust Memorial Day. Could there be a better time to recall the Talmudic tale in which a non-Jew asks Rabbi Hillel to teach him the Torah while standing on one foot. The rabbi answers, "What is hateful to you, you do not do unto your neighbor. The rest is commentary."
A week before Yom Ha Shoah we saw the installation of our 44th president, Barack Hussein Obama. In that history-making, tear-jerking, awe-inspiring moment of his swearing-in, the world dared to think big, to hope beyond expectation, to join together "as one people" as we move forward, a nation united as members of a national and a world community. That community, including a good many Israelis, took note in the passionate belief that peace – Shalom -- can prevail.
President Obama's plate is more than full in these troubled and troubling times. He may not be able to achieve all that he strives for on our collective behalf standing on one foot. But he makes us believe that together, we can find our common humanity.
As the good and learned rabbi said, all the rest is commentary.