Biblical literalists often cite passages in the Torah that condemn gay sex. Sodom and Gomorrah. Leviticus 18:22. Leviticus 20:13. And so forth.
By these same absurdly literalist standards, we should likewise put to death people who break the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36) and stone disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Of course, literalists often conveniently forget about these other problematic passages and claim normativity when they are really engaging in a selective reading.
This article is not an exercise in demeaning sacred texts, but in demanding a more forthright and consistent reading of them, for the sake of justice in our society.
What I love most about the rabbinic tradition, to which I as a contemporary Jew ascribe, is a willingness to look the most difficult, challenging, problematic passages of Torah full in the face and say 'how must this be understood today?'
The rabbinic tradition does not treat Torah as dead, but as a living fountain of inspiration, continually churning with new ideas about how we can pursue justice and lead our lives as beings made (metaphorically) in the image of God.
I have been blessed to learn just how many other traditions similarly engage in the work of introspection, reflection, and reinterpretation of their own sacred texts. Ancient words connect us to the past so that we can understand just how much change continually takes place and has taken place over the course of history. Participating in that process of positive change is, in my view, the most sacred work that we have agency to take part in as human beings.
Engaging with sacred texts enlivens us and opens our eyes to the wonder that is the ever-evolving world. We should not occlude or deny the existence of troubling words in our sacred texts. In fact, we should receive them as a blessing. For they show the very extent to which we need that continual change, renewal, and innovation as people, religions, and societies.
Today, these sacred texts, and the continual change we bring to our readings of them, provide us with wisdom that is of pressing importance. Much as rabbinic Judaism put an end to capital punishment except in the most unlikely, improbable of cases; much as rabbinic sages re-envisioned prayer for an era without a central Temple; much as rabbinic jurists continue to adapt and renew the sacred precepts of Jewish communal norms, so too must we today re-frame the discussion about the marriage of two people of the same gender.
Condemnation of gay sex is as absurd in our contemporary society as the presumption that we need to sacrifice a bull in order to pray. All the moreso is the condemnation of gay marriage. Such condemnation seems to take a reductionist view of marriage altogether. Sex can deepen one's relationship but is only one component of marriage.
Marriage is about profound interpersonal connection and love, not just sex. It is held sacred by our rabbinic sages, and by leaders across so many different traditions. We are seen as more fulfilled when we have a partner in life.
If we are all sacred beings, if we find meaning through a life-long partnership, and if prohibitions on gay sex are rendered incoherent through the same interpretive techniques that we apply to so many other biblical passages, then how could marriage between any two people be viewed as anything other than sacred?
In holding our sacred texts to consistent interpretive standards, so too may we find greater consistency in the standards by which we define marriage and the standards by which we affirm such marriages as holy before our Creator. In our time, in which so many struggle to find loving and enduring partnerships, may we have the wisdom to affirm personally, legally, and religiously the sacred nature of gay marriage.