Columbia Jewish Congregation (CJC) is a progressive congregation, affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement. A multi-generational, diverse congregation of members whose emphasis on Judaism as a civilization as well as a religion involves members in the study of Jewish beliefs, teachings, values, ethics, history, tradition, prayer, art, and music. Song-filled services engender a spirit of camaraderie that carries over into their many communal celebrations and social activities. CJC has a long history of commitment to Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Tzedakah (charity), values that members cherish and strive to pass on to their children.
The Social Action Committee of CJC requested that the congregation take a position in support of marriage equality. A motion to adopt the policy, in favor of marriage equality, passed unanimously at the Board of Directors June 12, 2012 meeting.
Marriage equality, as implied in the legislation recently passed by the Maryland Legislature, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, provides that same-sex marriage should be included as a legally acceptable form of marriage. In doing so it provides that same-sex couples will be granted all the privileges, responsibilities and legal protections available to couples of the opposite sex who marry in the state of Maryland. By the same token, the law allows for clergy of religious groups who oppose same-sex marriage on theological grounds, to refuse to officiate or “bless” the union. Historically the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (of which CJC is a member) has supported such a position. Opponents of the Civil Marriage Protection Act have gathered enough signatures to place the law on the November 2012 ballot for a referendum vote. Passing this proposal allows CJC’s name to be placed on the side opposing repeal of the law and to endorse the legislation recently passed.
As a congregation that has proudly welcomed diversity since its inception, CJC has had gay and lesbian members since very early in its history. Moreover, CJC has helped them celebrate the joyous life cycle events, such as B’nai Mitzvah, religious weddings and we have offered support to them during illness and death. When CJC came together to welcome Rabbi Sonya Starr and her partner, Rabbi Ilyse Kramer, the groundwork had already been laid for what the Social Action Committee was hoping to accomplish with approval from the Board.
The Committee planned an informational program during a Shabbat evening service including text
study provided by Rabbi Starr and discussions led by a representative from Equality Maryland, and Howard County Delegate Liz Bobo. Members of CJC appeared in response to the invitation to speak in favor or against the Committee’s proposal. All spoke in favor. Member Don Klein felt it was important for CJC to be involved in this cause and “to be a beacon, shining brightly, in support of justice for all.” Member Kelly Tabak mentioned that she was raised Catholic and was attracted to Judaism because of its stand on human rights; she felt that CJC taking a stand would attract members, not deter them.
Marriage equality is the civil rights issue of the twenty-first century. Most Reconstructionist and Reform rabbis already perform same-sex Jewish wedding ceremonies. What has been missing has been the secular benefits for the unions. A joint statement of the three arms of the Movement—the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical School—issued in November, 2008, in response to the reversal of California’s marriage equality legislation through Proposition 8, states:
“…We are saddened and deeply disturbed by the denial of fundamental human rights—to marry, to adopt and care for foster children—to thousands of gay and lesbian citizens across the United States. We are particularly dismayed by the passage of initiatives that have reversed previously recognized equality for samesex unions.
Beginning in 1993, in a series of resolutions, the Reconstructionist movement has affirmed the holiness of commitments made by same-sex couples. Religious recognition of marriage does not confer the legal and civil rights and responsibilities bestowed by the state upon married couples. We recognize the right of every religious denomination to affirm its own definition of, and limitations upon, the sacred ritual of marriage. No member of the clergy should be compelled to sanctify any union that is contrary to his or her understanding of sacred text and tradition. But neither should any gay or lesbian citizen of the United States be denied the legal rights confirmed by civil marriage.
We call upon leaders of other faith communities who share the commitment to civic equality and to the separation of church and state in the realm of marriage to speak out against bans on same-sex marriage and discrimination against GLBT people in the realm of adoption and foster care. We look forward to the day when all states will grant equal access to the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.”
Passing this proposal enables CJC to join coalitions and/or to sign letters and ads coming from Jewish and interfaith groups that oppose the repeal of the Civil Marriage Protection Act. In addition, Equality Maryland can use our name as a supporting organization.