This is a guest post by Sarah Brammer-Shlay. Sarah is currently finishing up her last semester at the University of Minnesota, double majoring in Jewish Studies and Political Science.
On November 6, 2012, we, in the state of Minnesota, will be voting on the issue of legalizing overt discrimination. Minnesotans will vote on the “Minnesota Marriage Amendment” which would amend our constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Same-sex marriage is already illegal in the state of Minnesota and if this amendment does not pass, it will continue to be illegal, nothing will actually change. However, if this amendment does pass, it will write in our constitution that two people who love each other and want to commit to each other will never have that possibility, for all future generations, because they are both of the same sex.
Constitutional amendments are nearly impossible to reverse; therefore we have one shot to stop this discriminatory amendment.
I am a straight woman, so what does this amendment have to do with me?
I am also a Jew; what does that aspect of my identity say about this type of proposal?
The answer I have found to this question is my Jewishness tells me voting “No” in November is the way that we as a people should vote. The reasoning for this is two-fold: our texts and our history.
Flipping through my “Jewish Study Bible” I come across the book of Exodus and find an extremely relevant verse to this amendment.
You must not carry false rumors: you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness. You shall not give perverse testimony in a dispute so as to pervert it in favor of the mighty…
You shall not subvert the rights of our needy in their disputes. Keep far from a false charge; do not bring death on those who are innocent and in the right, for I will not acquit the wrongdoer…
You shall not oppress a stranger for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:1-9)
We have the opportunity right now to step up and say that the Marriage Amendment is wrong and as Jews we will not stand for this.
We should not stand by, as witnesses when our country, “land of the free”, is not granting equal freedom to all of its citizens.
We have the responsibility as Jews to look out for other people, but also because our communities overlap, as many Minnesotan Jews are also members of the GLBT community.
Responsibilities can imply a consequence; in this verse we read, “I (G-d) will not acquit the wrongdoer.” We, as Jews, are held responsible for injustice we allow in our societies. G-d is loving, G-d is merciful but G-d also holds us accountable. Our accountability connects with our history and the last part of this verse, “You shall not oppress a stranger for you know the feelings of the stranger…” We have been strangers, we have been wanderers, and we have been the ostracized.
That brings me to my second point of our history playing a vital role in our necessity of voting “No” in November. Our Jewish history is full of lack of security, not knowing our home and not knowing where we are accepted.
This past summer I spent two months traveling around Europe. At the end of the summer I reflected on the “Jewish” aspect of this trip. In almost every nation I visited and tours I participated in, locals would speak of the history of WWII, constantly emphasizing their nation as one that was better to the Jews. For example, the city of Amsterdam stressed its emphasis on tolerance, a society that gave most rights to Jews.
But I do not want to live in a society that gives “most rights” to some of its citizens, I want to live in a society that gives all rights to all citizens; that is a free country.
I have begun to phone bank with “MN United for All Families,” the umbrella organization fighting to defeat this amendment. After the volunteers make phone calls, we debrief. A couple of weeks ago at the debriefing one individual raised his hand and said that someone he spoke to said that, “all Gay people should be lined up and shot.” My jaw dropped, my mind immediately went back to Europe, to a society where Jews were simply lined up and shot. Do I really think that this man on the other line will line up gay individuals and shoot them? I don’t know, I will say probably not.However, when our political language promotes second-class citizenship to GLBT individuals, how do we expect our citizens to also not label these individuals as second-class citizens?
Our country went through a shock last year, as week after week we read of young gay individuals taking their lives because it had simply gotten too hard. I, as a Jew, understand the necessity of the seemingly more powerful to use their voices to intervene in discrimination.
I write to you, the Jewish community of the Twin Cities, to think about this issue and think about how the history of the American GLBT community relates to our history as Jews, in Europe, in this nation and all over the world.
Voting “No” on November 6 is the Jewish thing to do, our texts that are constantly being interpreted and questioned tells us so and perhaps more importantly the history of our people tells us that partial rights is simply discrimination.
I hope to see you on March 4th from 2-5 PM at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Minnetonka, where we hope to gather 500 Minnesotan Jews to listen, discuss and organize around the November Minnesota Marriage Amendment and why we as Jews must defeat this amendment.