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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Reform Judaism (10/12)
Section - Question 18.3.8: Reform's Position On...Homosexuality

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                                  Answer:
   
   The position of North American Reform Jewry with respect to
   homosexuals, homosexuality, and the acknowledgement of homosexual
   relationships can be seen in the statements of the two key bodies of
   North American Reform Jewry, the CCAR and UAHC. These statements also
   show how the positions have both changed (in some aspects) and stayed
   the same (in some aspects) over time.
   
   In 1977, the CCAR (the organization of Reform Rabbis) adopted a
   [5]resolution
   ([6]http://www.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/resodisp.pl?file=rights&year=1977)
   calling for legislation decriminalizing homosexual acts between
   consenting adults, and calling for an end to discrimination against
   gays and lesbians. The resolution called on Reform Jewish
   organizations to develop programs to implement this stand. The same
   year, UAHC (the organization of Reform Congregations) issued a
   resolution that supported homosexuals, but did not encourage the
   lifestyle:
   
     ... resolved that homosexual persons are entitled to equal
     protection under the law. We oppose discrimination against
     homosexuals in areas of opportunity, including employment and
     housing. We call upon our society to see that such protection is
     provided in actuality.
     
     ... resolved that we affirm our belief that private sexual act
     between consenting adults are not the proper province of government
     and law enforcement agencies.
     
     ... resolved that we urge congregations to conduct appropriate
     educational programming for youth and adults so as to provide
     greater understanding of relation of Jewish values to the range of
     human sexuality.
     
   In response to this, in 1987, UAHC resolved that it would:
    1. Urge its congregations and affiliates to:
         a. Encourage lesbian and gay Jews to share and participate in
            worship, leadership, and general congregational life of all
            synagogues.
         b. Continue to develop educational programs in the synagogue and
            community which promote understanding and respect for
            lesbians and gays.
         c. Employ people without regard to sexual orientation.
    2. Urge the Commission on Social Action to bring its recommendations
       to the next General Assembly after considering the report of the
       CCAR committee and any action of the CCAR pursuant to it.
    3. Urge the Committee on Liturgy to formulate liturgically inclusive
       language.
       
   Then, in 1989, UAHC resolved to:
    1. Reaffirm its 1987 resolution and call upon all departments of the
       UAHC and our member congregations to fully implement its
       provisions.
    2. Embark upon a movement-wide program of heightened awareness and
       education to achieve the fuller acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews
       in our midst.
    3. Urge our member congregations to welcome gay and lesbian Jews to
       membership, as singles, couples, and families.
    4. Commend the CCAR for its sensitive and thorough efforts to raise
       the consciousness of the rabbinate regarding homosexuality. We
       urge the CCAR to pursue its own mandate with vigor and complete
       its tasks as soon as possible in order to respond to the communal
       and spiritual aspirations of gay and lesbian Jews.
       
   In 1990, the CCAR endorsed the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on
   Homosexuality and the Rabbinate. This position paper urged that "all
   rabbis, regardless of sexual orientation, be accorded the opportunity
   to fulfill the sacred vocation that they have chosen." The committee
   endorsed the view that "all Jews are religiously equal regardless of
   their sexual orientation." The committee expressed its agreement with
   changes in the admissions policies of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish
   Institute of Religion, which stated that the "sexual orientation of an
   applicant [be considered] only within the context of a candidate's
   overall suitability for the rabbinate," and reaffirmed that all
   rabbinic graduates of the HUC-JIR would be admitted into CCAR
   membership upon application. The report described differing views
   within the committee as to the nature of kiddushin, and deferred the
   matter of rabbinic officiation.
   
   A 1996 resolution resolved that the CCAR "support the right of gay and
   lesbian couples to share fully and equally in the rights of civil
   marriage," and voiced opposition to governmental efforts to ban gay
   and lesbian marriages. The resolution also said:
   
     Judaism places great emphasis on family, children, and the future,
     which is assured by a family. However we may understand
     homosexuality, whether as an illness, as a genetically based
     dysfunction or as a sexual preference and lifestyle - we cannot
     accommodate the relationship of two homosexuals as a "marriage"
     within the context of Judaism, for none of the elements of
     qiddushin (sanctification) normally associated with marriage can be
     invoked for this relationship.
     
   In addition to these resolutions, two CCAR committees have addressed
   the question of same-gender officiation. The CCAR Committee on
   Responsa addressed the question of whether homosexual relationships
   can qualify as kiddushin (which it defined as "Jewish marriage"). By a
   committee majority of 7 to 2, the committee concluded that "homosexual
   relationships, however exclusive and committed they may be, do not fit
   within this legal category; they cannot be called kiddushin. We do not
   understand Jewish marriage apart from the concept of kiddushin." The
   committee acknowledged its lack of consensus on this question.
   
   In 1998, The Ad Hoc Committee on Human Sexuality issued a report that
   included its conclusion, by a committee majority of 11 with 1
   abstention, that "kedushah may be present in committed same gender
   relationships between two Jews and that these relationships can serve
   as the foundation of stable Jewish families, thus adding strength to
   the Jewish community." The report called upon the CCAR to support all
   colleagues in their choices in this matter, and to develop educational
   programs. Note this change of position, from "cannot be" to "may be
   present". However, the report implied it is not present in all.
   
   More recently (March 2000), CCAR issued a new resolution addressing
   officiation of same-sex committment ceremonies. This resolution says:
   
     WHEREAS justice and human dignity are cherished Jewish values, and
     
     WHEREAS, in March of 1999 the Women's Rabbinic Network passed a
     resolution urging the Central Conference of American Rabbis to
     bring the issue of honoring ceremonies between two Jews of the same
     gender to the floor of the convention plenum, and
     
     WHEREAS, the institutions of Reform Judaism have a long history of
     support for civil and equal rights for gays and lesbians, and
     
     WHEREAS, North American organizations of the Reform Movement have
     passed resolutions in support of civil marriage for gays and
     lesbians, therefore
     
     WE DO HEREBY RESOLVE, that the relationship of a Jewish, same
     gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish
     ritual, and
     
     FURTHER RESOLVED, that we recognize the diversity of opinions
     within our ranks on this issue. We support the decision of those
     who choose to officiate at rituals of union for same-gender
     couples, and we support the decision of those who do not, and
     
     FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon the CCAR to support all
     colleagues in their choices in this matter, and
     
     FURTHER RESOLVED, that we also call upon the CCAR to develop both
     educational and liturgical resources in this area.
     
   Rabbi Eric Yoffee of UAHC, on March 29, 2000, released the following
   statement in response to the March 2000 resolution:
   
     This afternoon the Central Conference of American Rabbis, meeting
     in Greensboro, NC, adopted a resolution by an overwhelming vote
     stating, in part, that "the relationship of a Jewish, same gender
     couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual."
     
     It is important to note what the resolution on same gender unions
     does and does not say. It does not compel any rabbi to officiate at
     such a ritual, and indeed supports the right of a rabbi not to
     officiate. It does not specify what ritual is appropriate for such
     a ceremony. It does not say that the ceremony performed should be
     called a "marriage."
     
     Nonetheless, the historical and religious significance of this
     resolution is indisputable. For the first time in history, a major
     rabbinical body has affirmed the Jewish validity of committed, same
     gender relationships.
     
     What do the members of UAHC congregations think about this
     resolution? It is impossible to know for certain. Some have told me
     of their strong support, while others have indicated their
     opposition. Still others have said that they are sympathetic to the
     ideas expressed but felt no resolution was necessary at this time.
     
     Over the last quarter century, the UAHC Biennial Assembly has
     spoken out strongly in support of human and civil rights for gays
     and lesbians. We have admitted to membership a number of
     congregations that offer special outreach to gay and lesbian Jews,
     and called upon Reform synagogues to welcome gay and lesbian Jews
     as singles, couples, and families, and not to discriminate on the
     basis of sexual orientation in matters related to employment and
     volunteer leadership. And the UAHC has initiated vigorous education
     programs to heighten awareness of discrimination and to achieve
     fuller acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews in our midst.
     
     The Union, however, has always refrained from addressing the issue
     of rabbinic participation in same gender weddings or commitment
     ceremonies. As a congregational body, it is our task to provide
     guidance on issues of congregational policy that are normally
     decided by synagogue boards. But performance or non-performance of
     a same gender commitment ceremony is a rabbinical matter, to be
     determined by each rabbi according to his or her conscience and
     understanding of Jewish tradition. Therefore, while our synagogue
     members have felt free to present their views to their own rabbis,
     and many have done so vigorously, the Union as an organization has
     appropriately remained silent on the CCAR resolution, and took no
     part in the many months of debate prior to the convention.
     
     But I too am a rabbi, of course, and I was present at Greensboro.
     And I would like you to know that, voting as an individual, I cast
     my ballot in favor the resolution. I did so because of my belief
     that our gay and lesbian children, relatives, and friends are in
     great need of spiritual support; that the Torah's prohibition of
     homosexuality can reasonably be understood as a general
     condemnation of ancient cultic practice; that loving, permanent
     homosexual relationships, once difficult to conceive, are now
     recognized as an indisputable reality; and that in these
     relationships, whether or not we see them as "marriages" it is
     surely true that G-d and holiness can be present.
     
     I know that many disagree. But whatever one thinks on the
     commitment ceremony question, I assume that we will respect those
     who believe otherwise, and remember what unites us in this debate:
     our responsibility to welcome gays and lesbians into our
     synagogues. Because this I know: if there is anything at all that
     Reform Jews do, it is to create an inclusive spiritual home for all
     those who seek the solace of our sanctuaries. And if this Movement
     does not extend support to all who have been victims of
     discrimination, including gays and lesbians, then we have no right
     to call ourselves Reform Jews.

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