Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Memorandum submitted by Liberal Judaism (MB 03)

Submission to the Public Bill Committee on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill by Rabbi Danny Rich JP BA Hons Dip Crim on behalf of Liberal Judaism

Summary

Liberal Judaism supports extending the possibility of marriage to same sex couples, and cannot understand why the law should prevent Liberal Jews from conducting same sex marriages in its own synagogues.

Liberal Judaism and Equal Marriage

Liberal Judaism has always considered itself welcoming to, and affirming of, all persons although it was not until 1991 that Liberal Judaism published its pamphlet Where We Stand on Homosexuality. Primarily motivated by the intolerant backlash that followed the AIDS epidemic, the pamphlet rejected prejudice and discrimination, and affirmed the idea that ‘the appropriate context for the expression of human sexuality is a lasting relationship of mutual love and faithfulness between two persons’.

Before the year 2000 Liberal Judaism had no policy on Same-Sex Commitment Ceremonies, enabling its rabbis to do as they considered right. In 2000 the Rabbinic Conference of Liberal Judaism set up a working party, chaired by Rabbi Danny Rich, to consider the matter of Same-Sex Commitment Ceremonies. As a result, the Conference approved ‘the recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships between two Jews by appropriate Jewish ritual and support(ed) those (rabbis) who officiate at such ceremonies’. It accepted that, for many Jewish same-sex couples, the natural and appropriate symbols for such ceremonies would be those of the wedding service, and that the traditional terminology of holiness and sanctification rightly reflected the way in which many same-sex couples understand and conduct their relationships. It further gave permission for those to take place in a synagogue where the rabbinic and lay leadership of the local congregation agreed.

In the wake of the 2004 Civil Partnership Act, in 2005, Liberal Judaism published Lesbian and Gay Jews and Same-Sex Relationships’ in its Liberal Judaism in Practice series. More significantly, and probably as the first synagogal movement in the world to do so, Liberal Judaism published Brit Ahavah: Covenant of Love: A Liturgy for the Service of Commitment for Same-Sex Couples.

In March 2011 Liberal Judaism formally resolved to update its liturgy and practice to make marriage for same-sex couples fully equal to that of heterosexual couples.

Liberal Judaism welcomes the proposals on Equal Marriage for a number of reasons:

1. Liberal Judaism seeks to be an active force for good in the lives of Jewish individuals and to make its contribution to the betterment of human society. It confronts unflinchingly the challenges of our time, welcomes gladly all advances in human knowledge, and responds constructively to changing circumstances.

2. Liberal Judaism affirms the Jewish conception of humanity that each individual is created in the Divine image, and, believes that every person, despite their natural and other differences, ought be afforded equality of rights, responsibilities and opportunities.

3. Liberal Judaism affirms the importance of individual autonomy and, whilst recognising that individuals need guidance and that communal life and society require rules, supports prohibitive legislation only in as far as it is necessary for the protection of other individuals and of society as a whole.

4. Liberal Judaism recognises that Jewish tradition – in accord with the philosophies and ideas of the past – is a product of the environment in which it was forged. Liberal Judaism therefore seeks to synthesise the ancient values of Judaism with the insights of modern scholarship.

5. Liberal Judaism advocates loving, monogamous relationships, and wishes them to be sanctified and celebrated in front of both family and community. It accordingly wishes to extend the possibility of marriage to same-sex couples in the same manner to that enjoyed by other couples.

6. Liberal Judaism acknowledges that scholarship of the history of Jewish marriage demonstrates that the institution has evolved in practice and in meaning. Liberal Judaism therefore upholds the continuing evolution of marriage to include extending it to same-sex couples.

7. Liberal Judaism considers marriage, in accord with traditional Jewish teaching, to be a contractual arrangement by the partners concerned, and can see no moral , logical or practical reason why the possibility of marriage should not be extended to same-sex couples.

Finally, although Liberal Judaism respects the right of other religious movements to decline to conduct marriages which go against their teachings, and to have this right protected in law, it also seeks, in the name of freedom of religion, the right to conduct marriages which it sees as legitimate, and as an important pastoral service to its members.

  Background Information about Liberal Judaism and its Chief Executive

Liberal Judaism

Liberal Judaism was founded in England in 1902 and now consists of some 10,000 members in 39 constituents from Edinburgh in the north to Eastbourne in the south, and from Dublin in the west to East Anglia in the east. Now the third largest synagogal organisation of Jews in Britain, the majority of Liberal Jews live in London and its surrounding counties. Communities vary in size from the founding congregation, the 1,600 member Liberal Jewish Synagogue at St. John’s Wood, to the most recent constituent – the 40 member North Herts Liberal Jewish Community. Liberal Judaism communities employ 22 rabbis, the majority of whom work full time. Liberal Judaism has its headquarters at the Montagu Centre on Maple Street, London W1T 4BE, where the staff includes six rabbis and four youth workers. Individual communities are autonomous – except in the matters of conversion and marriage – but the central office has overall responsibility for the Liberal Jewish voice in public fora, for rabbinic training at the Leo Baeck College, for the development of new communities, for youth, students and young adults provision, for the creation of liturgy and publications, for maintaining Liberal Jewish archives, and for the provision of cemeteries for some 4,500 members.

Rabbi Danny Rich JP, BA (Hons), Dip Crim

Rabbi Danny Rich has been the Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism since the middle of 2005. He served as rabbi to Kingston Liberal Synagogue for nearly two decades. Rabbi Rich is a Justice of the Peace in the South West London Commission, and the Jewish chaplain to HM Prisons Coldingley and High Down, to Kingston Hospital, and to the Surrey and Borders (NHS) Mental Health Trust. He is an occasional lecturer at the Leo Baeck College and at the Markfield Islamic Institute. His publications include Liberal Judaism and Mixed Marriage (2004), Zionism: The Case for Fair-Mindedness On All Sides (2010), and Muslim Perceptions Of ‘The Other (2011).

February 2012

Prepared 13th February 2013