Amendment One: Vote Against

At Pesach, I hold an orange aloft and ask: “Why is this on the  seder plate?”

Inevitably, someone will say that a man once said that a woman belongs on the bimah about as much as an orange on the seder plate. The response? Jewish communities began adding an orange to the seder plate.

That’s not how it happened.

It was scholar and feminist Susannah Heschel who presented the orange as a new Pesach symbol—as a symbol of the fruitfulness we gain when lesbians and gay men are accepted, welcomed and valued as contributing and active members of Jewish life. The orange is about the freedom we must offer every member of our community.

Because we must offer that freedom, I am praying (really) that the citizens of North Carolina reject Amendment One.

For thirty years I have met with GLBT students who struggle with the bitter reality that they are condemned and despised. I met with suicidal students who had tried every method they could find to become “normal,” students who would have done anything to be like the majority that rejected them.

Twenty years ago, when my son was born, I resolved to make it clear that whoever he turned out to be, whether he wanted to spend his life with a man or a woman, he could count on unqualified love and acceptance from me.

If parents can’t offer that much, they shouldn’t be parents.

Today I find people living in the state I love prepared to make a hash of hard-won legal protections domestic partners have earned in past decades – whether straight or homosexual. Parents could lose custody rights to their children. Domestic violence protection could be withdrawn from unmarried couples.

Does anyone want to increase the ability of one human to brutalize another?

Just imagine that you can no longer visit a beloved partner in the hospital, make decisions if your partner is incapacitated, dispose of his or her remains. What kind of world – what kind of people would prevent anyone from helping a loved one in illness or death?

The present legal state of affairs restricts marriage to one man and one woman. We should be working to overturn the existing law, not struggling against additional discriminatory amendments.

Our Torah has nothing to say against the love of two women. What it says about homosexuality is frequently read out of historical context and—as my students at UNCC discover—learning more deeply about that context can alter the reading significantly.

“You shall love your neighbor (your friend, your associate) as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). When a non-Jew asked Rabbi Hillel to tell him the very essence of Torah, Hillel alluded, Talmud tells us, to this very verse: If you wouldn’t want someone to do something to you, he explained, then don’t do it to someone else.

Jews know what it is to live with constraints on their movements, on their free expression, on their very lives. Heterosexual Jews ought to know that it is wrong – just plain wrong – to refuse GLBT citizens access to ceremonies, rituals, and rights that they enjoy.

Oranges belong on the seder plate and GLBT citizens belong in our communities and in our state – with the same rights as any other human being.